kyrene_writes: (TW: stiles)
[personal profile] kyrene_writes
Title: Bodies Can Be Bought But the Heart Cannot Be Owned; Only Given Freely 1|2
Author: [personal profile] kyrenekyorl
Pairings/Characters: Stiles Stilinski/Stuart Stilinski/Derek Hale, Sheriff Stilinski, Scott McCall
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: 103,246
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Warnings: slavery of humans by werewolves as a social norm, sreference to past torture, reference to past molestation, reference to past physical abuse, emotional distress, violence, character death (just bad guys), abduction, urine as marking, watersports

Summary: In a world where the human race is enslaved by the werewolf race, Derek Hale struggles to recover from the damage caused to his teenage self by the human, Kate Argent. More to the point, he doesn't believe that slavery is right. But each werewolf gets a personal slave when they become an adult and he's long overdue.

The moment he sets eyes on the filthy, naked slave in the corner of the packed warehouse, Derek knows he has to bring him home. But can he ever gets Stiles, who has never known a kind owner before, to trust that he's finally found a safe place?


"Bodies Can Be Bought But the Heart Cannot Be Owned; Only Given Freely"
by kyrene


"This is your last chance, Derek," Peter warned, clapping what was no doubt meant to be a friendly, comforting hand to his shoulder.

Derek shrugged away and snarled at his uncle before he could stop himself, even though he knew that exposed more weakness than otherwise.

Peter raised one carefully groomed eyebrow and gave him an arch look.

"If you don't choose your own slave today," he explained, enunciating slowly as though he was speaking to a young child, which raised Derek's hackles more, both figuratively and literally, "Then you know that your mother will choose for you. And I can guarantee you, you're not going to like her choice."

Derek growled under his breath, but he knew that Peter was right. Talia Hale was a powerful and decisive alpha, who'd let her son get away without having his own personal slave for far too long now. And if Derek didn't pick one out for himself today, then his mother was going to gift him with one that he'd had no hand in choosing.

It wasn't that Derek didn't think his mother was capable of getting the right slave for him... but he knew damned well that she'd choose one that she felt would be best for him, and not the one he would have chosen for himself.

Of course the biggest trouble with that last was the fact that Derek didn't want to choose one for himself. It wasn't the choosing that was the issue; it was having a slave in the first place.

"I don't want a slave," Derek grumbled as Peter signed them both in with the hostess, writing the Hale name with a flourish.

"Not all of them are like Kate," Peter replied equally quietly, herding Derek into the large warehouse that had far too many bodies in it for Derek's peace of mind.

"It's not that," Derek snapped, irritated by this mention of the slave who'd weakened him with wolfsbane then bound and tortured him when he had been a teenager. Derek knew that most slaves weren't like that, obviously, or else there would be a lot more werewolf deaths and slavery of humans wouldn't still be a societal norm and personal expectation.

"Oh, right," Peter said, smirking at Derek in a manner guaranteed to piss him off. "It's that overdeveloped sense of morality, telling you that it's wrong to enslave another race."

Derek glared darkly. "How would you feel about it if it were the other way around, Peter?" he asked, the same old argument, but it was the only effective one that he had. And if anyone would stop and think, if they'd take just a moment to empathize it would be the only argument that mattered. "If we were the slaves to the humans?"

Peter snorted. "Wouldn't happen," he dismissed easily with a little wave of his hand. "We're strong, humans are weak."

Derek gave up, scowling and hunching his shoulders. He wasn't going to be able to convince Peter, he already knew. His uncle was pretty forward-thinking about a lot of things... but ownership of human slaves wasn't one of those.

He could have told Peter that he hadn't felt very strong, had in fact felt pretty fucking weak, when Kate had dosed him with wolfsbane. But if he brought that up Peter would think that this was still about her, when it really wasn't.

The real point was that anyone could be weak and anyone could be strong, and no one should presume to "own" another living being.

Peter was right about one thing, though. If Derek didn't purchase his own slave today his mother was going to do it for him, and Derek could be ninety-nine percent sure he wouldn't like whoever she picked. Not to mention the fact that while he loved and trusted his Mom, he also knew her, so he couldn't be sure any slave she supplied for him wouldn't be a spy who would report his mental and emotional health back to their alpha. Even though it was only because she was his mother and she worried, he deeply hated even the idea of that happening.

"Just choose one that's completely different than Kate," was Peter's helpful suggestion as he dragged Derek around from vendor to vendor. Derek winced, trying not to actually look at any of the slaves on display.

Most vendors were decent enough to put their slaves into scraps of cloth that covered the essentials, but there were those who preferred the more traditional method of leaving their wares naked so that potential buyers could see what they were getting into.

Derek hated it and he wished he was anywhere other than here. If he had the money, he'd buy every single human here and set them all free....

But then, the world wasn't set up for freed humans, and the one slave that Derek was going to purchase today was a slave that he was going to be keeping, living in his home with him. Derek wasn't going to be setting anyone free today; he couldn't because that would entirely defeat the purpose of this trip.

Derek was almost resigned to the idea of letting Peter choose his slave for him, which would suck but not as badly as letting his mother picking one out would, when he wandered into a dark corner of the warehouse in an attempt to escape his annoying uncle... and stumbled across exactly what he needed, put out on display by a vendor who looked pretty much the opposite of reputable.

"When I said different than Kate," Peter hissed from where he had caught up with Derek, squeezing his upper arm with the prick of claws to underline his words, "I didn't mean this different."

Derek ignored him, though, his gaze caught and held by the slave on the other side of the flimsy, waist-high chain link fence that nominally separated them.

It was a boy who looked to be about fourteen or fifteen, though he might have been older; it was hard to tell when he was skinny and hunched over and badly in need of a bath.

He was young, he was clearly underfed, and his gaunt face was sporting a look that was caught halfway between defiant and despondent.

Derek stared. Big brown eyes stared back from under a fringe of limp, dark bangs, above an upturned nose. There was a thick but smooth scar bisecting one winging brow, skipping over the eye itself, thankfully, then sliced into the top angle of his sharp cheekbone. It wasn't disfiguring; instead seeming almost to be crafted to draw attention to the beauty of the rest of his face.

He was somewhat crouched, on his feet but pulled inward as though he was damaged or maybe just embarrassed to have his junk on full display, but aside from the scar and the fact that he needed to gain at least fifty pounds, he looked healthy enough.

Maybe it was the hint of defiance in his eyes that spoke to Derek. Maybe it was his scent; bitter with old pain and sour with current anger but strong with something else, something that was completely new to Derek and yet which spoke of "home" in a way that nothing outside his own apartment or his mother's house ever had before.

Or maybe it was something else entirely. But whatever the cause, Derek knew.

"Mine," he said, glaring at the vendor. Then, "That one," he told Peter, pointing.

"Seriously?" Peter groaned, rolling his head on his neck. As though his opinion was going to in any way sway Derek at this point.

"You don't want this one," the vendor said, speaking in some kind of thick accent. "He runs. He gets away. Beatings don't help. He is not broken."

"Why would you have him on display, then?" Peter asked reasonably, even though he was clearly displeased by Derek's choice. Well, he still sounded annoyed, but he channeled it into the question he had asked the vendor, which Derek definitely approved of.

"Slaves aren't supposed to be broken," Derek grumbled, but he kept it under his breath. Laura was the one who got away with saying things like that out loud; Derek wasn't as bold as she was, wasn't as outspoken when it came to things like rights for humans or the ethical treatment of slaves, even though he wanted to be. Laura was older and she would be an alpha someday. Derek was just the middle child in a large family and after what Kate had done to him he was leery about standing out, about potentially making himself a target.

Peter shot him a quick look, but didn't say anything. The vendor was human, so he hadn't heard. That was probably part of why he was in a dark corner, sporting a ragged tent and showing filthy, obviously mistreated slaves. Well, to be fair, vendors were generally about twenty percent human, the other eighty percent being werewolves, but the human vendors were usually rich and confident and had worked their way to the top of the shark tank, so to speak. This guy... not so much. In fact, Derek wondered how he'd even gotten in the door. He only had five slaves on display, though at least the other four looked to be better shape than Derek's boy was in.

"I need to be rid of him," the vendor said in answer to Peter's question, nearly bent in half he was kowtowing so hard to the wealthy looking werewolf and his sullen nephew. "But you are too fine for him. He deserves that not. He will serve you not. He would better be a sex slave."

Derek went cold at that. He knew that was something that happened, unspoken of in polite society, but it was frowned upon, taken as a sign of weakness. Not even because it involved a werewolf mating a human, but because it meant that the werewolf had needed to purchase his or her sexual partner.

"Has he been trained in that?" Peter asked smoothly, ignoring the low-level growl Derek had going on next to him. Derek's gaze was fixed on the boy, whose own dark eyes had slid to the side when the vendor had suggested he become a sex slave, giving him a distinctly unfriendly look.

The boy was a strange mixture of pride and defiance combined with fear and submissiveness, Derek thought, his interest piqued as well as his instincts still screaming "mine" at him. As if he had bowed enough to withstand what had happened to him without actually being broken yet.

He might not be too far from it, though, if he was sold to an owner who would use him cruelly. Human slaves had no recourse when that happened; something that Derek's mother was trying to change through political channels, and Laura was fighting to completely change by more grassroots and possibly guerilla tactics.

"No, he has not," the vendor was telling Peter, hands wringing before him, and Derek wanted to tear him apart. He didn't usually have violent feelings toward humans, despite what Kate had done, even though a lot of them moved and smelled like prey, but this asshole just kept rubbing him the wrong way. And not just because of the way he mistreated and spoke of the slave he was trying to sell, though that was a large part of it too.

"But he could be taught, by heavy enough hand," the vendor continued, glancing in Derek's direction, though he was careful not to make eye contact, his eyes kind of glancing off Derek's nearer shoulder. "Anyone can be taught, if they survive the teaching. For this one, force would be needed. You gentlemen look too kind."

Peter snorted, though whether it was over being described as "kind" or if it was because he firmly maintained that Derek was too soft-hearted for his own good and so agreed with the vendor's assessment, Derek couldn't be sure.

Derek's attention was back on the boy, anyway, drawn there as though on a string. He couldn't tear it away for long, and it didn't matter to him what the vendor said, he was taking this slave home with him.

"No wolves are kind," the boy unexpectedly spoke up, not loudly but perfectly articulate, his voice as youthful as his face, coming out low and bitter and more than a little scratchy, as though his throat had been damaged at some point.

Derek winced internally, because it was clear to see why this slave thought so, but he was wrong. Derek disapproved of humans being used as slaves in general and he really hated the idea of each werewolf having a personal slave, but all the Hale humans were well taken care of and healthy. Which this boy would learn once Derek got him home.

Before Derek could come up with a satisfying comeback to that, though, the vendor acted, quick and vicious as a striking viper.

"You do not speak without being spoken to," he snarled, fist flashing out and knocking the boy to his knees on the rough warehouse floor.

Derek lunged, his growl nearly a roar, his eyes flashing, breaking the chain link fence separating them as though it was made of paper. His rage rendered him prepared to tear the vendor's throat out for daring to touch what was his, but it was more important to kneel in front of his boy and make sure he was okay.

"Well, shit," he could hear Peter utter behind him, sounding more guttural and far less cultured than Derek was used to. "I guess we're gonna have to buy him now. Derek, you complete fucking disaster." He then addressed the vendor directly. "I hope you're willing to offer a sizeable discount for damaged goods."

The vendor babbled something, but Derek's attention was focused solely on the skinny, naked boy who was crouched before him, on his hands and knees, his unscarred cheekbone already bruising, pale skin marred, his gaze fixed on Derek with obvious fear, no doubt due to Derek's rage and his quick movements into the boy's space.

Ignoring Peter and the vendor as inconsequential while they haggled over price, Derek reached out and grabbed, cradling the boy's bony face in his hands, careful as though he was handling something precious. He could feel the strength of the bones under his fingertips, but he also knew that his hands contained the power to crush those bones to dust if he wanted.

He would never want that, would never, ever do that, though. He couldn't. As far as Derek was concerned, he was handling something precious.

"What's your name," he asked, keeping his voice low and, he hoped, nonthreatening. He didn't bother asking if the boy was okay; clearly he was hurt, and just as clearly he'd been damaged far more badly in the past and had recovered from it.

He was a teenage human slave who was bare-ass naked and undernourished, who was being sold to a werewolf he assumed would be cruel to him, and he'd been struck in the face hard enough to knock him to his knees. Of course he wasn't okay. So Derek wouldn't be the dumbass that asked that question.

He did, however, have a burning desire to know what this boy called himself. Werewolves were allowed to rename their slaves, and many of them did, but the Hales felt that this was unnecessary and, in a word, dehumanizing. There was a definite power play involved, in treating a slave as a belonging rather than their own being, and Derek understood it but he disapproved on every level.

So whatever name this boy gave him, that would be his name. Derek could give him that much. He wanted to give him more.

Those brown eyes were watching him warily, and it pleased Derek that this human boy was willing to meet his eyes; it meant that, like the vendor had said, he wasn't broken yet. Even if staring down a werewolf wasn't the smartest move ever, generally speaking.

But then that bright gaze was gone, hidden behind lowered lids. Derek was disappointed, but that gave him a chance to note how long and thick the boy's lashes were, and he watched as a pink tongue flickered out to wet chapped lips that would be pretty once he'd fed his slave back to full health.

"Your name?" he prompted again, even more softly, keeping the words for just the two of them. Not because he was showing weakness by expressing concerned for a "mere" slave, even though there were plenty of buyers, vendors, and even slaves in this warehouse who would feel that way, but because he was selfish and didn't want to share any of their moments with anyone outside the two of them.

He couldn't wait to get this pretty, damaged, nearly feral boy home and make him his own. Derek sensed it was going to be a struggle, probably the biggest challenge in his life, but he was ready for it.

"Stiles," slipped out through parted lips; a gift reluctantly given but impossible to reclaim now that Derek knew how his boy self-identified.

Derek wondered if that was a nickname. It might not be; some human parents gave their offspring odd names in an effort to differentiate them from the werewolves who owned them, as a small act of independence. Then Derek wondered whether his Stiles had ever known his parents. There were some human slaves who hadn't been allowed to be part of a family unit during childhood; especially when they had a less caring owner. So maybe Stiles had picked out that name for himself. That was, if it hadn't come from a previous owner.

It made Derek feel somewhat sad and uncomfortable to think that he didn't know where Stiles was coming from, where he had been, what he had suffered and what he'd lost. He knew how he smelled, though, and he knew that now Stiles belonged to him.

"I'm Derek," he offered in return, and he missed those big brown eyes, but then Peter was unceremoniously kicking him in the thigh, and declaring;

"Come on, Derek. We're done here. Time to head home."

"Clothes," Derek said shortly, standing and raising the boy to his feet as well with hands cupped under his sharp elbows.

Peter sighed in an entirely unnecessarily longsuffering way and handed over the bag he'd been carrying slung over his shoulder since they'd exited the car.

For the first time since Peter had dragged him in here, Derek was grateful that his uncle was such a traditionalist. If it had been left up to him, Derek wouldn't have brought the extra clothing that most buyers preferred to put on their slaves as soon as they were purchased, since he hadn't intended to bring anyone home.

But Peter had insisted that Derek bring along one of his shirts and a pair of sweatpants, and Derek felt worlds better once the slave -- Stiles -- was draped in them. Not because he'd had a problem with the nudity, but because being naked had rendered the boy even more vulnerable when he had already been brought down and robbed of everything.

A little dignity should be a right, Derek thought angrily, scowling and making Stiles cringe, misinterpreting the expression as being aimed at him when he fumbled while dressing, when Derek was actually angry on his behalf.

Clothing should be a given; it shouldn't be something to be gifted upon an individual if their owner felt like it.

Derek knew that there were werewolves who insisted that their slaves perform all their functions nude. That was far more socially acceptable than making them perform sex acts, though the two sometimes went hand in hand. More often, though, the enforced nudity was a way to keep the slaves "in their place", and on occasion it could be the result of a paranoid owner who wanted to ensure that their slaves were unable to pull a weapon on them....

Though, when the slaves' owners had only to shift and their teeth and fingers would become deadly sharp, what could a slave carry that would be of any threat?

Yes, Derek had been held captive and damaged by a human, but wolfsbane had been involved. And in a world run by werewolves, that particular plant was exceedingly hard to come by. Most slaves who might be inclined to use it wouldn't even begin to know how to get their hands on it. Kate had been an anomaly, in more ways than one.

At any rate, something in Derek settled once Stiles was wearing his clothes, his skin covered in Derek's scent. The clothes, of course, were way too large on his skinny frame, but the sweatpants had a drawstring, and they only had to make it to the car, and from the car into his apartment. If he hadn't known it would further rob Stiles of his autonomy, Derek would just have happily swooped the boy into his arms and carried him out of here much more quickly than they could walk.

Peter grumped when Derek clambered in the back seat with his boy. "You're making me feel like a cab driver here, Derek," he complained irritably.

"Take us home," Derek grunted, dragging the boy in close and actually feeling his body heat for the first time. It wasn't as warm and vital as Derek knew it should be, but he blamed that on stress, shock, pain, and the obvious lack of decent meals for far too long. He'd get the boy fed and clothed and taken care of and he'd be warmer and more healthy before too much time had passed.

The very first thing, though, would be to give him a bath. Right now Stiles reeked of panicked sweat and unwashed flesh and that disgusting vendor. Derek's clothes could only do so much to cover that tangle of negativity.

As Peter started the car and prepared to leave the parking lot, Derek pressed his palm to the boy's neck, doing what he could to wipe his scent along the pulsing line of his throat and then up into his hair, which needed washing, sliding over the smooth curve of his skull.

"Really, Derek?" Peter barked, glaring at him in the rearview mirror. "I swear, if you whip your cock out and piss on him right now, you're both walking home."

Derek snarled, and Stiles shrank into himself, though he didn't fight to get out of Derek's arms. "Just shut up and drive."

"You're welcome, Derek," Peter snarked as he drove, and, yeah, Derek might owe Peter some gratitude for making sure that Stiles got paid for -- though it was his mother's money -- and that the papers got signed, but he was being such a dick. "It was my pleasure, Derek. So happy I could help, Derek."

Derek ignored him, pressing his nose into his new slave's temple and simply breathing, taking in the boy's scent and staining his skin with his own.

"Fucking hell," Peter groaned, slapping the steering wheel and since he had nothing more helpful to add, Derek tuned him out the rest of the way home.

***

His new owner just had to go and be impossibly attractive, Stiles thought despairingly as he held perfectly still and tried to act as little like prey as possible.

Of course, most werewolves were disgustingly good looking. It was like a prerequisite, something that was coded into their genes along with predatory instincts and super healing and the tendency to go into rage-monster mode once a month.

But this Derek was... even more beautiful than the norm.

And in Stiles' experience -- his broad and painful and horrifying experience -- the better looking the wolf, the more cruel and selfish they were likely to be.

Well, it was too late to change his fate now. He'd been purchased, despite the best efforts of everyone who wasn't this Derek, and he was going to have to make the best of things.

His new owner was clutching him close right now, in the back of the smoothly purring car they were in, and Stiles suspected that the wolf didn't even know he was rumbling out a low, continuous growl deep in his chest. Stiles could feel the disapproval of the wolf in the driver's seat as though it was a blanket resting over top of him, but most of his attention was focused on the more immediate threat.

This close, he could feel that his new owner possessed muscles upon muscles. Stiles was swimming in the wolf's clothing, and he didn't even feel ridiculous, he just felt as though he was being smothered, both by the oversized shirt he had on and the powerful arms locked around him.

His breath was coming sharp and shallow and he fought tooth and nail against the pending panic attack. If it overwhelmed him now his owner would only get more angry and hurt him even more.

Not that this Derek had hurt him yet. But Stiles knew it was only a matter of time, and he had no desire to hurry the hurting along.

"Relax," the wolf said, murmuring the word into the skin of Stiles' temple where he had his face pressed, even though Stiles' knew he needed to bathe and had to smell pretty stale.

Suddenly there was a hand spread over Stiles' chest, right over his pounding heart. And it should have scared him more, should have made him think of fingers clenching and claws tearing through his clothes and flesh....

But this touch taken in conjunction with the command spoken in such a firm but gentle tone... actually did calm Stiles, immediately.

He was stunned. Normally when he had a panic attack he just had to let it run its course, and he'd be lucky if he didn't come out of it roughed up by an angry owner who had no patience or understanding for such weaknesses.

Maybe his subconscious was finally learning some self preservation skills. That would be nice. Stiles would be totally okay with that.

Or maybe it was Derek... but Stiles didn't want to even consider that as a possibility. It wasn't as though his new owner was even an alpha; he was just a beta. The day Stiles accepted his owner as his master was the day he might as well kill himself and get it over with.

To distract himself and avoid processing the fact that there was a wolf breathing hotly against his temple, right above his scar, Stiles looked down, chin lowered until he could see the hand on his chest.

And of course his beautiful new owner had gorgeous hands. He couldn't have gnarled paws or thick fingers. No, he had to have lean, elegant fingers with smooth skin, neatly kept nails, and a fine dusting of dark hair above each knuckle. There was more dark hair running down under his sleeve, his wrist strong but bony, somehow just as elegant as his fingers.

Stiles swallowed thickly and closed his eyes. Those hands would be doing terrible things to him before the day was out, he was sure.

Even if Derek wasn't the sort of wolf to take sadistic pleasure in seeing how he could hurt Stiles, how badly he could make him suffer without doing lasting damage, he was still more than likely to punish Stiles if he was clumsy or did anything wrong.

And Stiles knew that he was too often clumsy, and he was constantly doing things wrong. Not even on purpose. Once, when he'd been very young, he'd been taken to a doctor for humans, and they'd done some tests and diagnosed him with something called ADHD. Stiles wasn't sure what those letters stood for, but he knew that it meant his brain worked differently than most people's, and he had trouble keeping focused on one thing... except for when he got hyper-focused and couldn't drag his attention off of that one thing and back to his surroundings.

Both of these only meant disaster when one was owned by short-tempered wolves, and Stiles did his best to work around his issues, but he still knew he had to expect the semi-regular beating for messing up what should have been simple tasks.

And if Derek wanted to fuck him.... No, Stiles really couldn't think about that right now. So far it hadn't happened, and Stiles knew his luck had to break at some point, but his new owner was beautiful and powerful. Why would he soil himself with a scrawny, scarred slave when he could probably attract any partner he desired from his own kind?

"We're here!" the wolf named Peter announced loudly as he pulled up to the curb and stopped the car. "That'll be ten-fifty plus tip."

Derek sneered and ignored the outstretched hand that his uncle held back, palm up, instead moving to reach around Stiles and open the door closest to the sidewalk. Stiles wasn't sure if he should try to help or keep perfectly still, but the latter seemed the better option so he froze and tried not to breathe too loudly.

"I assume you'll be telling your mother you purchased a slave today," the older wolf said, taking his hand back and twisting further in his seat so that he could watch them more closely.

Derek shrugged, jostling Stiles slightly. "Wasn't planning on it. She knows I was gonna have to get one." He glanced sharply at his uncle. "And I suspect you're going to be giving her a call of your own."

Peter smirked, and his face deeply frightened Stiles, but he tried not to show it. This older wolf was handsome, yes, but he looked as though he could be very cruel if he chose to be. And Stiles could tell that he already brought the worst out in him, by his mere presence.

But, then, this Peter never would have purchased Stiles in the first place; he'd made that abundantly clear.

"Well, if you can't even be bothered to officially inform your alpha of the new addition to her pack, then I guess it's up to me," he said, and Stiles was pretty sure that his new owner should be nervous but Derek just grumbled out a half-hearted thanks and got both himself and Stiles out of the back seat with minimal effort.

Well, if he really was the son of his alpha, he probably enjoyed a little more leniency than more distant pack members would have. Stiles just hoped that his owner's neglect wasn't going to come back and bite Stiles in the ass. It seemed all too likely.

Peter called out a farewell from the car after Derek slammed the door shut, and within moments Derek and Stiles were up the walk and inside a very nice, upscale apartment building. One with a doorman outside and carpets in the lobby and the scent of flowers and fruit through the entire place.

Stiles felt very ugly and dirty and out of place, and he was sure that the doorman had given him a disgusted glare as they'd walked past him. He'd greeted Derek pleasantly enough, though, and then Derek was keying in a code in the pad next to the elevator, its doors slid open, and they were on their way upward. Headed for Stiles' new home.

If you could call a prison cell with a dangerous warden "home", of course. Stiles considered it to be a gilded cage at best.

The inside of the elevator was carpeted too, the burgundy pile thick and soft under Stiles' bare feet, tickling his toes. The walls were mirrored, and Stiles tried not to see himself, keeping his gaze turned downward. He looked bad, he knew, but he looked even worse standing next to a genetically gifted, beautiful werewolf, surrounded by luxurious interior design.

Fortunately, the trip wasn't a long one, and then they were out of the enclosed box and walking down a short hallway with only one door. Derek produced a minimalistic key ring with the hand not wrapped around Stiles' waist, holding him upright and close. Evidently there was no key pad here, just an old fashioned lock in the doorknob, and a deadbolt above it.

Once they were inside, Derek close and locked the door behind him, then dropped his keys into a bowl on a small table next to an actual real coat rack.

No wolf who'd owned Stiles before had been prosperous enough for things like doormen, carpeted elevators, or coat racks. Stiles was more troubled by this obvious wealth than otherwise, because this was a disaster waiting to happen. If he broke anything here, whatever he broke was near certain to be worth more than he was.

And flesh healed.

It was only long practice that kept Stiles from reaching up to touch the scar that marked the skin around his left eye. Wolves didn't like movements they hadn't in some way induced, and the last thing Stiles needed now was to piss off his new owner.

Right now... this was the most delicate time in new slave ownership, Stiles was well aware. He was in a wolf's home territory, and while his own human senses couldn't inform him, he knew that he reeked with "otherness". The smells of the vendor who had sold him, the other slaves he'd brushed up against during transport to the warehouse, and his own sweat and clinging body oils; these were all a part of him right now. And Stiles' personal odor -- which wasn't usually so concentrated and gross -- hadn't yet become familiar to his new owner's nose.

There were three different ways to overcome this situation. One was time. The longer Stiles spent here, in this apartment, the more he would smell like his owner, and the more the apartment would smell like him.

Another was one that had already been set in motion; he had to wear clothing that smelled of his owner and allow his owner to scent mark him whenever and however he wanted.

And the third way... well, it held elements of that second method, but it was more immediate and could be accomplished in one brief act.

Well, first of all, before anything else, Stiles needed to bathe, to wash away all traces of the world outside this apartment. He was actually looking forward to that part; it wasn't as though he liked to be covered in his own stink and a slowly thickening layer of grime.

But then there was the final aspect of being "marked" as owned. And that one involved Stiles getting a little more up close and personal with his owner than he usually preferred.

Still, it would be best to just get it over with. The sooner Stiles smelled like he belonged here, the less chance there was that his new owner's instincts would get the better of him and drive him to act as though Stiles was an intruder.

Evidently Derek's mind was moving along similar lines, because after he'd shrugged out of his jacket -- hanging it where it belonged on the coat rack -- he chivvied Stiles toward an absolutely humongous bathroom that was done all in white tile and chrome fixtures.

There was a bathtub sunk into the floor, large enough to fit at least two full-sized, fit wolves. There was a shower stall with a built-in seat and a frosted glass door. There were fluffy white towels stacked on a wicker basket in the corner that could have dried off a dozen wet bodies, and Stiles wondered pessimistically if he was going to be able to launder those without somehow fucking that up.

The room had no windows, but there was a wide skylight above their heads, letting golden sunbeams into the room. Stiles felt as though it should be night, dark and stormy, but it was actually only mid-afternoon, as the clock on the wall near the sink informed him.

"You've had a previous owner?" Derek asked gruffly, causing Stiles to start and drag his eyes away from his surroundings and back to the wolf who had purchased him.

Derek was glaring at Stiles in a way sure to raise his pulse and this did absolutely nothing to make him feel better about this whole thing.

Stiles nodded, wondering if this fell under the "don't speak unless spoken to" stipulation, wondering if it would make things easier or harder if he admitted to having had multiple owners before.... It wasn't as though it had been by choice, but wolves tended to be possessive, so he decided to keep that last fact to himself.

"Then you know what we both need to do now," Derek said, and he looked and sounded pained.

Stiles nodded again, then shrugged. He didn't really care. Getting pissed on was one of the least unpleasant things that the wolves he'd belonged to in the past had done to him.

Derek stared at him a moment, his eyes intense, and Stiles noted that his cheeks were pink and he almost seemed... embarrassed?

"It's better to do it before you bathe," Derek said, and Stiles blinked, a little surprised. It usually went the other way around, and he had to walk around reeking like a wolf's urinal until it was time for his next bath.

He wasn't going to lie and say he wasn't pleased by this turn of events.... But then, he wasn't planning on saying anything, positive or negative.

"Take your clothes off and get in the bathtub," Derek directed, and now he was staring at a spot somewhere over Stiles' shoulder instead of meeting his eyes, still looking a little pink.

Stiles frowned, confused, but did as directed. Derek was in his twenties; surely he'd owned a personal slave before. So why was he acting as though this was all something new to him?

For the first time it occurred to Stiles to wonder what exactly had happened to Derek's previous personal slave. If he'd been a wolf, he could have tried to pick up the scent in the apartment, maybe smelled blood or some other clue....

But then, if Stiles were a wolf he wouldn't be a slave, would he be.

Pondering what sort of horrible fate could have befallen Derek's last personal slave made Stiles feel cold, but he did as directed and stripped off the borrowed clothes he'd been wearing. His fingers failed him when he tried to untie the drawstring on the sweatpants, but Derek came to the rescue, undoing it with quick and easy movements.

Once Stiles had stepped out of the pants and shed his shirt, Derek plucked them off the floor and dumped them unceremoniously into a smaller wicker basket that was half hidden behind the door, his nose wrinkled in an expression of distaste.

Stiles was careful as he descended into the tub. There was steps, which surprised him a little since wolves wouldn't need those, but he knew that some designers did take weaker human bodies into account, and he was definitely grateful for the aid.

The stress and fear of being sold to a new owner was beginning to wear on Stiles' body as well as his brain, and he literally couldn't remember the last time he'd had a real meal rather than scraps. His hands were shaking, his knees felt watery, and he was terrified he would slip and knock into a hard edge of the bathtub, potentially drawing blood and sending Derek into a rage aimed at him.

A lot of wolves liked to pretend they were so civilized, Stiles thought bitterly, as he made it safely to the bottom of the bathtub and knelt there, head bowed, the porcelain unforgiving under his shins and knees, but all it took was one wrong move, one irritation too many, one scent of human blood, and they turned into the beasts that he knew they all were.

This time Stiles did reach up and trace his fingertips over the scar on his face, as a reminder, even though it was bad to let himself lapse like this. But his head was down, he could hear Derek moving around somewhere else in the bathroom, and Stiles was feeling exhausted and weary and weak.

So far his new owner had not hurt him. But Stiles knew it was only a matter of time. Eventually he pissed everyone off. And someday it was going to get him killed.

Great, there he went, getting grim and fatalistic. Stiles held back a sigh, exasperated with himself. His head was swimmy and he probably needed some food. Normally he wasn't so morbid. Yeah, he was cynical, he was a realist, but not to the point of accepting his own eventual death by the claws of an angry owner.

Stiles' head shot up in startlement as Derek leaped effortlessly down into the bathtub, landing lightly in front of him. He looked before he could catch himself and lower his gaze again.

His new owner was still beautiful, even more so when viewed from a kneeling position. His hair was dark and thick, he had artful stubble over a strong jaw, under perfect cheekbones. His eyes were wide-set and pale beneath dark, straight brows. Stiles couldn't be sure of their color -- sometimes they looked hazel, sometimes green, sometimes almost blue -- but they were clear and bright and intelligent. He had a slightly hooked nose with winged nostrils, and full lips, and if Stiles didn't know he was a wolf he would think he had a kind face.

No wolf could be kind. Stiles knew that, and he couldn't let himself forget it.

Derek was wearing a teeshirt and jeans now, no shoes or socks, and his feet looked long and pale, even against the white of the bathtub bottom, the more so because of the hair dusting their tops and his toes. He wasn't as hairy as some wolves, but he was more hirsute than, say, Stiles was.

Stiles wasn't going to dwell on the muscles exposed by the short teeshirt sleeves, or the strength of the thighs on his eye-level. The very last thing he needed to do now was to show any sexual interest in his owner. That would either get him fucked or get him fangs in his throat, and either prospect was beyond unpleasant.

"Head down," Derek ordered, as if Stiles wasn't already doing that. He moved around to stand behind Stiles, his feet squeaking softly on the smooth porcelain even though wolves usually moved almost completely silently.

Stiles bent his neck as directed. Sometimes he forgot himself and met wolves in the eye, which was generally a really bad idea, but usually he had enough self preservation to obey the strictures of submission and body language that were the prudent thing to do when dealing with wolves.

And he was in no way up for a fight right now. He just wanted to get this over with, bathe, and get on with whatever his new owner was going to want him to do next.

The metallic rip of Derek undoing his fly made Stiles' shoulders tense in anticipation. Just because he didn't have any qualms about his owners marking him this way, that didn't mean he actually liked it. He had never liked anything that his owners had ever done to him.

At least Derek didn't seem inclined to bite Stiles to mark him, though that might change after Stiles was clean. None of Stiles' previous owners had bitten him to mark him, but he'd seen plenty of slaves who bore the deep puncture marks of fangs, on their waists, at the wrist, or marring the napes of their necks.

Stiles had scars. Aside from the worst one on his face, most of the rest of them were on his back where he couldn't really see them. Maybe that was why Derek had paused before cutting loose. It couldn't be because he was hesitant, or had a shy bladder, right? Wolves didn't get shy and they never hesitated.

"Don't move," Derek commanded, as though Stiles would be that dumb, and then there it was, the stream of urine hitting the taut stretch of his shoulderblades and upper back, so hot it almost felt scalding. That was just because Stiles was chilled, though, he knew, especially kneeling on porcelain the way he was.

He could visualize Derek, standing over him, cock in hand, hanging out of his jeans, and it should have been ridiculous in his mind's-eye, but instead he couldn't help connecting it with the sensation of hot piss cascading down his spine... and somehow... it wasn't ridiculous.

Then it stopped, and Derek shifted, stepping gracefully around Stiles.

"Up," he directed, and his voice was a little hoarse. Stiles interpreted this to mean he should lift his head rather than that he should stand, and so he did.

He kept his eyes closed, playing at being submissive, hoping that Derek wasn't about to piss on his face. It had happened before, and while Stiles didn't so much mind being marked this way he definitely didn't like getting a face-full of wolf urine.

It was pungent, noticeably more so than humans'.... Though as the stream started back up and -- thank fuck -- just hit him in the chest, Stiles could tell that Derek had been drinking a lot of coffee earlier in the day. He had to fight not to smirk at this realization, because his face was raised and if Derek saw that expression on it Stiles doubted it'd go well for him.

The piss trickled over his collarbones, trailing down his stomach, and joined the rest of the mess on the bathtub floor. Mostly it was Derek's piss, but the hot liquid had washed some of the dirt off of Stiles' body, and it was slow making its way down the drain. Stiles hated being filthy and unkempt like this. The asshole that had sold him to Derek should never have been allowed to handle slaves.

And then Derek was done, leaving Stiles covered in his piss, which was rapidly cooling and causing him to shiver uncontrollably as he felt even more chilled than before they had begun.

"Head for the shower," Derek commanded, still a little hoarse, tucking himself in and zipping back up, stepping away from the spreading puddle underneath Stiles. "Use my bathing supplies. I'll get you some fresh clothes to wear."

Stiles nodded, licking his lips, hoping he'd be able to get out of the tub without slipping now that he was all drenched on wolf piss. The thought of a hot bath and clean clothes appealed greatly, and he knew he was already safer now that he smelled like he belonged to his new owner. He wasn't going to let his guard down, not even for a moment, but he could only maintain his knife's edge of alertness for so long, and he was getting dangerously close to running on fumes.

"While you bathe, I'll order some pizza," Derek added, giving Stiles a weird, earnest stare, keeping it above the shoulders, a little crease between his thick, dark brows, his lips pressed together.

Stiles nodded again. He wondered if Derek meant pizza for both of them or just for himself. He hoped he would get some.... He was so hungry that he'd forgotten how to feel hunger; the gnawing ache was just a part of him now. It hadn't always been this way, he'd been well fed in the past even if his owners hadn't been generous. But recently he'd fallen on hard times; mostly due to his unfortunate inability to filter the words that popped out of his mouth.

Which was part of why he was trying so hard to keep his lips closed right now. He couldn't say the wrong thing if he didn't speak, right? He could still do the wrong thing, break items due to clumsiness, spill drinks, trip and bruise himself... but he would control his tongue. And maybe he could avoid some of the punishments he might otherwise call down on his own head.

Derek stared a moment longer, then his nostrils flared, he nodded once in return, and the next thing Stiles knew he'd leapt back out of the bathtub in one smooth movement.

It took Stiles quite a while longer than it had taken Derek, and he was terrified of dripping urine on the pristine floor on his way to the shower stall, but he eventually made it.

The steaming hot shower that he was able to take -- on his owner's orders, no less! -- made everything feel so much better. For at least as long as it took Stiles to get clean.

The rest of reality could wait until he was done. Right now, for a few precious minutes, Stiles was something approaching contented. With a frosted glass door between him and the rest of the world, steam surrounding him, hot water sluicing away the dirt and piss covering his body, and permission to use his new owner's shampoo and soap. It was the most physical pleasure Stiles had been allowed to feel in a long time, and the safety he was feeling was illusionary but so much nicer than the fear he'd been experiencing for so long.

Stiles knew to treasure these moments when he stumbled across them. And after the day he'd had, he valued this one all the more.

***

"You should have seen it," Peter grouched into the phone and Alpha Talia Hale couldn't help smiling fondly. She knew her younger brother and his tendency to be overly dramatic, but she also knew her son, and she strongly suspected that this time Peter wasn't exaggerating. Much.

"I'm glad that he's found someone he wanted," she said mildly, refusing to get drawn in by Peter's histrionics. "I didn't think that would ever happen."

"This slave is going to kill your son in his sleep," Peter snapped. "He'll slit his throat and run. The vendor said he was a runner."

Talia rolled her eyes, since Peter couldn't see her and get offended. "Derek would heal from a slit throat as long as wolfsbane isn't involved," she reminded her brother. "And if he was naked when Derek bought him, as you said, then there's very little chance he could smuggle some into Derek's apartment."

Then, because his worry over Derek's safety was real and touching, even if his delivery was more than a little overblown, she continued, "I'll go and check on them tonight. It's my right as Derek's alpha to meet the new family member."

Peter snorted, probably because he didn't consider slaves to be family members. Talia couldn't force him to change his mind on that, and she knew that Peter's personal slave was well taken care of and happy and had gotten to keep her real name, so she didn't push the issue.

The Hales were notorious troublemakers where the subject of slavery was concerned. Peter tried to distance himself from that as much as possible, but that was difficult when his alpha regularly campaigned for better treatment and more rights for humans. More rights than none, at this time, and there were only the most nominal of protections set up for the slaves, which were rarely enforced and never punished if broken. Right now humans weren't even recognized as living beings; they were items, to be considered as belonging to whatever werewolf had purchased them.

Right now pets had more protection than human slaves had. Talia had been working to change that for all of her adult life, and someday her efforts would bear fruit. Someday.

Her daughter, Laura, took a more direct approach, getting down in the trenches, so to speak, and because of that Talia hadn't so much as talked to her eldest in over a year. It hurt, to go without seeing her beta, her child for so long, but Talia understood the need. If she was going to make any progress, she needed to distance herself from what Laura was doing. And since Talia Hale was an upstanding alpha, it probably worked to Laura's benefit to eschew the Hale name in turn.

A lot of werewolves considered their slaves to be family; it wasn't just the Hales who were so generous. And Talia was sure that Derek was already well on his way to thinking of his new personal slave that way, rather than just seeing him as a possession. Especially if any of what Peter had described to her was true.

"I think this boy might be just what Derek needs," she said, really just thinking aloud, but she knew that Derek was Peter's favorite, and that he cared greatly about his nephew even if he hid it behind smarmy smirks and barbed words. Peter had been almost as panicked as Talia when Derek had been held captive and tortured by that Argent bitch, he'd been the one to rescue and avenge him, and he was just as concerned about Derek's recovery now; part of the reason Talia had allowed him to take Derek slave shopping instead of going herself.

Well, that, and Derek was more likely to listen to Peter than to her. Though that had evidently proven not to be the case, since Derek had come home with a slave that Peter had strongly and vocally disapproved of.

"What do you mean?" Peter asked, and she took it as good sign that he'd calmed enough to voice the question in a curious tone of voice that was only slightly judgmental.

"You know as well as I do that Derek has been drifting, ever since the Argent thing," Talia said softly, her arms aching to hold her son even just thinking about that horrible debacle. "Unable to focus, unable to commit to anything, rejecting the tradition of choosing a personal slave for far longer than I should have let him get away with...."

"Well, to be fair, that last was partially Laura's bad influence," Peter couldn't help sniping. And he had a point. Her bold, willful daughter continued to fill Talia with mingled exasperation and pride.... She couldn't say so to anyone outside the family, and Peter certainly didn't want to hear it, but Talia Hale agreed that no human should be enslaved. She just couldn't make this belief public without risking losing most of her influence and strength as a highly placed, deeply respected alpha.

She could do more good where she was now, in a position of power.... But someday things would change, and on that day Talia was going to make sure that she and her family were all on the winning side.

Derek should have had a personal slave even before he had moved into his own place, some time between his eighteen and twentieth birthdays... but he had been in his last month of being seventeen years old when Kate Argent had gotten her hands on him. And after the torture and mental anguish that human bitch had put Derek through, Talia hadn't had the heart to insist that he welcome a brand new human into his life.

Besides, he hadn't moved out until a couple of months ago, and the family house had plenty of slaves -- some might accuse her of hypocrisy, but every human Talia purchased lived a healthy, safe life, and since she had yet to disband the entire practice, and couldn't give them their freedom, she did what she could for as many slaves as she could reasonably support -- so it wasn't as though Derek hadn't had slaves available to him if he'd needed them for any reason.

But now that Derek had his own place, he needed his own personal slave. Not because it was tradition, not because there were things he couldn't do for himself, but largely because Talia didn't want him living completely alone.

"Derek needs something to challenge him," Talia said firmly, because she already knew how Peter felt about his niece, and they didn't need to sit here and rehash that when they were supposed to be discussing Derek.

"Well, this slave will definitely do that," Peter snorted. "Probably challenge him to the point of drawing blood."

Talia mulled that over. She loved her son, and she wanted Derek to succeed on his own, but.... "If you think he's really in danger, Peter, I can order him to move back into the house."

Peter sighed heavily. "I think Derek had bitten off more than he can chew, and I think he's made a huge mistake," he said in measured tones. "But this slave is probably a hundred pounds dripping wet and more scared than scary. He's clearly willful and rebellious, but he doesn't strike me as homicidal or suicidal, so he probably won't attack Derek. Not to the point that Derek couldn't defend himself, anyway."

"And I'll be checking on them tonight," Talia added. It wasn't tradition; normally the alpha stepped back and let their beta deal with things for close to a week. But normally a werewolf got their personal slave when they were still living under their parents' roof. Besides, Derek was her son and he'd chosen an unusual slave, so she could be excused for not standing on ceremony. She would, however, text Derek to let him know she'd be showing up.

"I just hope you're ready to accept a human as your son-in-law," was Peter's parting shot, and Talia lifted a brow as she hung up on her brother.

That last was completely ridiculous, but Talia gave it a moment's thought, just in the abstract. She strongly suspected that Laura was in some kind of intimate relationship with the boy who had once been her personal slave -- who was now "free" in name, even if it wasn't possibly legally -- and Talia wasn't horrified by the idea of it. Peter would not have liked to hear it, but Talia actually wouldn't have had any problem with any of her children coming home with a human mate, just as long as this person made them happy.

Werewolf and human couples were so rare as to almost be a myth, and most of them lived on the east coast, but at least the concept wasn't completely unheard of.

Talia didn't think that was where Derek was headed -- he'd only just brought his slave home a couple of hours ago, after all -- but if he did end up in a relationship with this mysterious human that had Peter's dander up, then he'd have all the support Talia could offer him as his mother and his alpha... and he would need it.

If any werewolf started a serious relationship with a human they'd be ostracized by the majority of society. Derek probably wouldn't mind this -- he had withdrawn so far into his shell that Talia despaired of ever getting him to act like a normal person again -- but that didn't mean it wouldn't still make his life harder....

But that was a matter for the future, and Talia would have a better idea of what was likely or unlikely to happen once she'd met the boy. The immediate connection Derek had evidently felt had been suspect, but maybe Derek had just recognized a kindred spirit in the beaten and unbowed human, seeing echoes of the things Kate had done to him in what had been done to the boy.

Talia knew her son, and she thought that a dirty, scarred, damaged human slave might call to him more than a healthy, well taken care of slave would. So until she met the boy and saw them interact, she couldn't be sure of her son's motivation.

She sent Derek a quick text letting him know she'd be at his apartment at eight o'clock that evening and then left it at that. If he hadn't replied within a couple of hours she would call him, but she wasn't going to bother him unless it became truly necessary. The initial few hours of bonding were important for a werewolf and their first personal slave, and she didn't want to interrupt that with a phone call unless she had to.

But Talia was the Hale pack alpha and as she had told Peter it was her right to meet the pack's newest addition, as well as the most recent family member. Even Derek, stubborn and backwards as he could sometimes be, had to recognize that.

And he did. Within three minutes Talia had a reply, a terse text that said he'd have dinner waiting.

So it would be more than a quick chat, Talia mused. Well, that was all right. Derek was her son and he'd been through a lot. He was doing remarkably well, all things considered, but it still made her anxious to think of him in his own apartment rather than in his old bedroom down the hall from Talia's suite.

It was perfectly natural to want to check on him, and she was looking forward to a chance to get to know his new personal slave.

Peter disapproved and Derek had made the choice himself, so the human couldn't be too bad, right?

Well, she'd find out shortly. Just a few more hours and she'd be on Derek's doorstep.

Just enough time for her to figure out the perfect welcoming gift for this human boy. Talia wanted to make sure he knew that he was welcome.

Some werewolves treated their human slaves like possessions, to be bought, broken, and discarded at whim. Some treated their human slaves like valuable resources and made sure they were happy and healthy. But some, like the Hales, took them in as members of the family and gave them the best lives they could have while still being slaves.

Talia Hale wasn't proud of the fact that she owned slaves, but she did her best by them. And she knew that Derek was going to be the same.

If this boy was important to Derek, then he would be important to her. And she was going to make sure he knew he was a member of the pack and a family member.

Somehow she thought this boy, from the way Peter had described him, was not going to be easily convinced of this fact.

***

Derek growled, glaring at his phone screen, and then reined himself in when he saw Stiles flinch away from him out the corner of his eye.

It was his mother that was causing his annoyance, but Derek didn't feel like sharing that fact with his slave. He and Stiles were still strangers and Derek was leery of showing any sort of weakness before any slave.

Kate Argent hadn't belonged to the Hale family, but she'd been a slave. She hadn't taken Derek and tortured him out of any sense of revenge or as a statement about human slavery. She'd done it for fun and because she'd thought Derek was "pretty".

Derek was mostly over the fear and vulnerability and pain she'd made him feel. And he actually thought that he was ready for his own personal slave; especially since it was Stiles. But that didn't mean he wouldn't still keep his guard up.

"Can you cook?" Derek asked, turning abruptly to look at Stiles, who was perched uncomfortably on the edge of the sofa. He'd been inclined to kneel at Derek's feet after emerging from the shower, but Derek had planted him firmly on the furniture and told him to stay there.

Stiles had cleaned up pretty well, Derek thought. His hair had been buzzed short very recently, dark over the curve of his skull. His features seemed sharper and the nasty bruise the vendor had given him stood out more now that he wasn't coated in dirt and grime. His skin was pale and dotted with moles that Derek found more fascinating than he probably should. There were more moles on his body, hidden under his clothes; Derek had seen them in the bathroom. Stiles had one mole on each shoulderblade and for some weird reason Derek found that to be strangely charming.

He was still swimming in Derek's borrowed shirt and another pair of oversized sweatpants, but at least he looked warmer, and Derek had made him put on a pair of socks. Stiles kept shivering and Derek knew it was only partially from nerves and hunger; part of it was because he was actually cold.

He smelled like Derek now, which was viscerally satisfying. Derek was a little embarrassed that he'd had to piss on Stiles, even though it was a normal societal expectation.... It didn't always happen. Derek's mother had never had to do it with the family's slaves. But this was an extreme situation, Derek knew his instincts to be unreliable -- completely due to Kate -- and he was a first time slave owner in an apartment that he had never shared with another living being, and so he'd known it would be the best, quickest way to convince his more predatory side that Stiles belonged here....

It would also warn off any other werewolves that Stiles might encounter, letting them know he was already completely claimed. Not that Derek planned on letting him encounter any other werewolves any time soon.

Except his mother, that was.

"I can cook," Stiles replied, so quietly Derek could barely hear. His voice was the same as Derek remembered, raspy and young, but he was pleased to hear it again.

His lips were still slick with pepperoni grease, even though the two of them were done eating. Derek had belatedly thought that pizza might not be the best thing to feed someone who was undernourished to the point of being visibly gaunt, but he hadn't been able to think of anything else that delivered. At least not until after the fact, when it had been too late.

Stiles had eaten the pizza without complaint, which had pleased Derek's instincts to provide for his new pack member. Derek wasn't an Alpha, he didn't have the mindset for it, he would never be the Alpha, barring something horrible happening to his entire family, but he still felt the overwhelming need to make sure his new slave was safe and healthy and well provided for.

Stiles hadn't reached for the pizza on his own, which Derek understood but hoped was a behavior that would change at some point. Still, when he'd pushed a plate with three slices into the boy's trembling hands, he'd eaten all of it. Derek didn't know how much was too much or not enough, but three generous slices had seemed reasonable.

"Can you cook real food?" Derek pursued, because Talia might be his mother, but she was also his alpha and this was his apartment, his own territory, still new and somewhat exciting, and Derek both wanted and needed to make a good impression.

Stiles nodded again, chewing on his lower lip, his gaze almost meeting Derek's but not quite, his hands working at the ends of the too-long sleeves of the shirt he had on.

He smelled like Derek now. His skin and hair bore lingering traces of Derek's piss, his shampoo, and his body wash. The clothing Stiles had on was clean but even laundering it hadn't washed away all traces of Derek's sweat, so that spiced Stiles' own scent. Derek liked it. His body odor mingled perfectly with Stiles' own personal odor, which was infinitely more pleasant now that he wasn't filthy.

Derek wanted to pull Stiles close and bury his face in his neck, just breathe, but he sensed that if he did that he would completely panic the boy.

"Yes?" Stiles said it like his question instead of an answer, his eyes huge, his shoulders tense. He looked as though he was bracing himself for a blow, and Derek's eyes skipped to the bruise marring his cheekbone, and he wished he'd damaged that vendor. But it was too late for that now, and he needed to make Stiles less afraid. Somehow.

"I have steak and green vegetables in the fridge," Derek told him. "You can cook steak, right?"

Stiles nodded more vigorously this time. "I can," he rasped with more confidence, and there was a little more color in his cheeks, but Derek could just tell that he was still feeling cold.

"Good." Derek would have cooked dinner himself, but he was pretty sure that both Stiles and his mother would disapprove if he tried. He did it all the time, for himself, but that was what having a personal slave was for, after all. "My alpha is coming for dinner. You'll be cooking it."

Stiles went still and pale, and Derek sighed heavily. He'd fucked it up again, and he couldn't even say he didn't know how.

"Relax," he grunted, even though he knew his words would probably have the opposite effect. "Don't think of her as my alpha, just think of her as my mom."

As expected, that didn't really help. Stiles still looked hunted, terrified, and Derek couldn't stand seeing this or knowing that he'd put that expression on his slave's face.

"Come here," he said, rising to his feet and grasping Stiles by the upper arm. He held his phone in the other hand and led Stiles' into the bedroom.

He could hear the boy's heart beating a hard, almost violent tattoo inside his chest, his lungs wheezing for air, and he hoped he wasn't triggering another panic attack. It might be a bad idea, but Derek decided not to change his course of action, and he sank down onto his bed, dragging Stiles with him.

Still holding onto his phone, he used his free hand and his elbows and legs to get himself situated in the middle of his mattress, on top of the eiderdown comforter Peter had given him as a housewarming gift when he'd moved into the apartment, and to get Stiles tugged into his arms, back to his chest, holding the boy close the way he'd done in the car, the way he'd been wanting to ever since he'd gotten him in his home. Their home, now.

Stiles was tight and tense, his breath still coming too fast, but when Derek did nothing more than hold him closely but carefully, not even nosing at his throat the way he wanted, the human began to infinitesimally relax.

"We're just going to take a nap," Derek murmured, raising his head and shoulders enough to peer around Stiles as he set the alarm on his phone. "For a couple of hours. If you can't sleep that's okay, but I want you to lay still and try to rest. Don't worry about making dinner; I'll help you. Don't worry about anything, okay? Just relax and be."

He thought he heard Stiles give a muffled snort at that last, but to his credit the boy did try to do as he'd been directed. It was clearly an act of will when his entire body went limp, but that was even more impressive to Derek than if it had been natural. He felt a little bad about essentially forcing Stiles to relax, but he knew it was better for him and so he didn't really regret having done it.

Derek set his phone down close at hand and grabbed a pillow, tucking it under his head. Stiles' head was pillowed on one of Derek's biceps, and he intended for it to remain there.

He settled in, spooning the boy, surrounded by the puffy comforter, sharing his body warmth as best he could. He wanted to roll and blanket Stiles with his entire torso, but that would probably freak him out and make him feel trapped. Not to mention, Derek weighed a considerable amount more than Stiles did, so it might physically harm him if Derek squished his fragile frame under his hard muscles.

Derek closed his arms carefully around that bony body, spreading one hand over Stiles' chest, feeling that his heart was still pounding. He could also feel the shivering that wracked the boy, and he hoped that his protective presence might begin to banish the shock and fear and chill that caused that reaction.

"What do you want me to do?" Stiles asked hopelessly, his voice tiny and broken.

Derek nuzzled the nape of his neck before he could stop himself. "Nothing," he replied. "I want you to let go of all expectations and just allow yourself to exist for a while. Sleep would be good, but only if it happens naturally."

Stiles ground out a weird rattling sound that Derek couldn't parse, but then he went silent, and he didn't tense back up, even when Derek kept his nose where it was, at the base of his skull, allowing himself to feel the softness of Stiles' hair, breathing in the complex fragrance of his clean skin, letting himself become familiar with how Stiles smelled....

After the morning he'd had -- waking early, enduring Peter dragging him out to look for a personal slave, picking out Stiles and bringing him home, marking him and feeding him -- and with the promise of a visit from his mother pending, Derek felt as though he needed this nap even more than the exhausted slave in his arms did.

Or, well, at least as much.

Considering what had happened with Kate, if anyone had told Derek that he would be comfortable falling asleep with a human in his bed, in his arms, a human that he'd only just met for the first time a few hours ago, he'd have called them crazy. Maybe he was a little crazy for doing this.

But Stiles wasn't Kate and Derek's instincts knew that. Maybe he would wake up and the boy would be gone -- the vendor had said he was a runner, after all -- but if that happened then Derek would track him down and bring him home again.

He didn't think that was likely to happen, though. For one thing, if Stiles moved to pull away he would wake Derek. And for another... well, he just couldn't imagine Stiles fleeing from him, no matter how scared he was right now in his new home, no matter how willful he was. Derek could tell that Stiles was smart and he would know that getting out of the building, past the doorman, and disappearing into the town after having been purchased and marked by a member of a powerful pack would be nearly impossible.

Derek just hoped that Stiles could get some sleep and not spend the time between now and when his phone alarm went off internally freaking out.

"Sleep," he murmured, pressing an open mouth briefly to the skin at the nape of Stiles' neck, then moving his lips away when this was the one thing that caused the boy to tense back up. Derek hadn't meant it as a kiss, and he wasn't going to bite, but he suspected that Sties was assuming the one or expecting the other.

It was weird, he thought sleepily, as he nestled into the insanely puffy comforter and his pillow, tucking Stiles in close, spooning him with a certainty he'd never had with a bedmate before, being able to smell the faintest lingering traces of his piss on Stiles' skin, bitter under the rich glaze of cleaning products and the salt of the boy's sweat. But it wasn't a bad thing....

It had been hard for Derek to make himself mark Stiles that way, but he was glad he had.

It wasn't that he was squeamish about bodily functions; he was a werewolf, after all. But he'd always been a little more reserved about anything that rang of intimacy... and after what Kate had done to him that had only gotten worse, not better.

But he'd done it, Stiles hadn't minded, and now he had staked his claim on the boy in a way that his mother was going to have to acknowledge.

Derek realized with a vague sort of surprise that he was actually a little anxious about Mom meeting Stiles. And not as his alpha, but as his mother. Peter thought that she would disapprove the same as he'd done, but Derek desperately wanted her to see what he saw in Stiles. And if he could buy them all some time by marking Stiles in a traditional manner, then that was what he was willing to do.

Anyway, he thought, burrowing his nose into the hollow behind Stiles' ear, breathing contentedly, feeling his pulse slow and his limbs go loose and heavy, contentment washing through him, he had done what he'd needed to do and he liked the way it smelled on Stiles. A little bitter and acrid, but the boy had washed most of it off in the shower and what was left wasn't enough to offend anyone's senses. Hell, Stiles wouldn't even be able to smell it with his human nose.

Derek drifted off, hoping that Stiles felt even a fraction as hopeful and good about their new living situation as he did... but sadly aware that he probably didn't.

When his alarm went off -- with a truly obnoxious pop song blaring from its tinny speaker, thanks a lot Cora -- Derek startled awake and cursed, grabbing his phone and fumbling his hands together around Stiles, who was still in his arms, resting back against his chest, and dismissed the alert.

"Sorry," he yawned, scrubbing at his eyes and glaring at the edge of the bed which was so very far away. Stiles had gone tight and stiff again, not that Derek could blame him. The room was darker than when he'd fall asleep and they needed to get up and start dinner soon.

When Stiles didn't respond, not that Derek had really expected him to, Derek reared up, leaning over and around him to look him in the face.

"Did you sleep at all?" he asked. Stiles was heavy-lidded and his cheeks were a blotchy pink, which Derek thought indicated he'd been at least dozing, but he couldn't be sure. Human physiology was something of a mystery to Derek.

Stiles stared at him silently, lips pressed together tightly, and Derek was suddenly convinced that he was considering what answer his owner would most like to hear.

"Truth," he growled, then stated the obvious, which he was sure Stiles already knew, "I can hear in your heartbeat if you lie to me."

He would also be able to smell it, once he got to know Stiles better and knew what his normal scent was. But right now Stiles always felt on edge and fearful. Derek really wanted to change that.

Maybe growling and demanding an answer hadn't been the best way to settle Stiles' mind, Derek realized ruefully, but it was too late now.

Stiles nodded jerkily. "A little," he coughed out, and it sounded as though his throat hurt. Derek squinted. The flesh of his neck looked flawless and undamaged, but he strongly suspected that this wasn't the way the boy naturally sounded.

Before he thought better of it, he palmed Stiles' throat, fingers curling around his skinny neck. He realized how this might seem to Stiles when he felt him swallowing convulsively, even before he saw the dilation of his pupils and the way his expression went blank and the stench of abject terror suddenly flooded his system and soured his scent.

"Sorry," Derek blurted, pulling his hand away immediately, heaving himself backward and away from the boy. "I was-- I just wanted to see if there was any pain I could take from you."

He sometimes forgot that to a lot of humans a werewolf's hands could be deadly weapons. He would never hurt Stiles like that, but the boy had no way of knowing this with as much as certainty as Derek knew it.

He felt a little sick, remembering how Peter had ripped out Kate Argent's throat. It should have been either Derek's right or his alpha's, but since Peter had been the first one to find Derek, where he was strung up and writhing in agony, and he'd been so overcome with protective rage, he'd been the one to do it. Derek had been too weak, and Peter hadn't been able to wait for Talia to get there. It had been in the heat of the moment, and so no one had blamed him for claiming the kill that should have been Talia's or Derek's.

If he was honest, Derek was glad it had been Peter and not himself or his mother.... Even though he knew that she could be ruthless when necessary and would do anything to protect her children, he hadn't needed to see his mom do something so violent. Not even to someone he had so much cause to hate.

But Derek recalled the gristly mess that had remained where Kate's white throat had once been, the flesh and sinews torn almost down to her spine, Peter not taking any chances, and this visual superimposed itself over Stiles' neck, and it made Derek feel ill and almost as frightened as Stiles clearly was.

"I'm going to...."

He clambered off the mattress and stood beside the bed, scrubbing his face.

"Sorry," he said again, letting his arms fall to his sides. He hadn't really been expecting a verbal response, but when the silence dragged on for several heartbeats, he dared a look at Stiles.

He was still laying on his back, sprawled where Derek had left him, his thighs fallen open, his arms wide. Derek took a little comfort in the fact that he hadn't curled up in a protective ball or anything, but he was a little distressed by the look on Stiles' face.

It... It wasn't fear. It was... confusion?

"Um." Derek cleared his throat and licked his lips, trying not to expose the anxiety he was feeling. He didn't know how to make this better, and so he decided to just ignore what had happened.

"Can you hand me my phone?" he requested, gesturing to where it had fallen out of his hand when he'd scrambled off the bed.

Stiles blinked at him slowly. Maybe he was shocky, Derek worried. He shouldn't have... he should never have put his hand on Stiles' throat like that! There was no trust between them yet, and so it was only natural for Stiles to interpret it as a potential threat.

Derek bit his lip, considering that he might have broken Stiles... but after another moment, the boy stirred, rolling toward the phone in question, his movements clumsy in the fluffy give of the eiderdown, and he gingerly picked it up.

His heart was pounding, hard and fast, and Derek felt even worse. It occurred to him that Stiles, suspicious and fearful as he was, might think this was a test, or maybe even a trap. It wasn't, obviously. Derek just needed his phone, and he didn't want to scare Stiles more by moving toward him.

It occurred to Derek belatedly that he could have waited until Stiles had left the bed, then retrieved his phone. Oops. Oh well.

Before he could rescind the request, Stiles was holding the phone out to Derek, hand trembling but arm straight.

"There's no pain," he rasped as Derek gingerly took it from him, being careful not to brush Stiles' fingers with his own and automatically checked it for missed calls or new texts. There wasn't anything and he quickly returned his attention back to Stiles. He watched as Stiles lifted his hand and wrapped long, spindly fingers around his throat the way Derek had done. "Here," he clarified.

"I'm glad," Derek said, nodding, though he still didn't think the husk to Stiles' voice was natural. Maybe he should try to make him an appointment with Dr. Deaton. The man was the Hale pack Emissary, but he also treated any of their slaves who became unwell or somehow hurt themselves. In fact, it would be neglectful and selfish if Derek didn't take Stiles to see the doctor, even though the possessive side of him bristled at the idea of anyone else's hands on the boy.

Stiles was still looking at Derek like he couldn't understand the words coming out of his mouth, and Derek wondered if he'd ever been apologized to by a werewolf. The dramatic scar on his face that had almost cost him his eye, and the thinner but noticeable scars that marred his bony back would indicate... not.

Derek bit back a sudden urge to apologize to Stiles for all the abuse he'd clearly suffered at the hands -- and claws -- of other werewolves. For one thing, it wasn't his place to do so. For another, Stiles wouldn't believe him and would only look for another meaning of his words. And, anyway, Derek was Stiles' owner now. He couldn't show such weakness, even if he really wanted to.

"Freshen up in the bathroom if you need to," he instructed, because he was suddenly worried that Stiles wouldn't even take a piss if he wasn't given permission, "And then come join me in the kitchen."

Stiles blinked once than nodded vigorously, his face falling into a much easier expression than the one he'd been wearing before.

Derek kind of hated that it took him giving Stiles a clear order to calm the boy down, but....

Well, he couldn't expect miracles to happen. After all, he hadn't recovered immediately from what Kate had done to him. He'd had therapy, he'd spent months inseparable from either his mother or Peter, and in some ways he still wasn't one hundred percent recovered. He hated to admit that last, but he knew it was true. And he didn't know if he'd ever be completely over it.

He'd healed, though, and was working toward a new sort of normal for him. And maybe as he made the effort, he could drag Stiles along with him, and make things better for the boy.

The alternative was that they were both miserable with one another for the rest of their lives, and that wasn't an acceptable option as far as Derek was concerned.

Stiles nodded, scooting carefully toward the edge of the mattress, and Derek wanted to stay, was reluctant to walk away from his new personal slave, but he needed to give Stiles a little space right now.

Besides, his mother would be here in about an hour. Derek needed to clean up the pizza detritus -- sure that she would disapprove of his choice for his new slave's first meal in his home -- and get the steak marinating. Stiles would be doing the actual cooking, but Derek knew how his mom liked her meat seasoned.

But as he went into the kitchen and set to work, he also listened to Stiles' heart beating the whole time the boy used the toilet and washed his hands, splashing his face with water and then letting out a coarse little curse that made Derek grin fondly when he most likely got his collar or sleeves damp....

These small sounds made something in Derek's heart feel warm and full, and for the first time since he'd moved into it, the apartment felt like home to him.

Peter probably would have laughed at him for this, Derek thought, but his mother might understand. He wanted her to understand. He wanted her to like Stiles as much as he did.

Stiles was family now, and Derek needed his alpha, his mother to acknowledge that.

Of course, he also had to convince Stiles of that.... But that was going to take longer and be quite a bit harder, Derek suspected. He was determined, though, and he wasn't going to give up on either of them.

***

Peter hadn't exaggerated, Talia thought as Derek let her into his apartment, taking her coat then leading her into the living area, and she got her first look at his new personal slave, but his words had in no way done justice to the reality.

Her first instinct was to feed the boy -- much and often and as healthy as possible -- because he was nothing but a shivering jumble of skinny limbs and stark cheekbones, the lines of his jaw etched sharply enough to look as though they could slice the wind.

But it was the huge brown eyes, thickly lashed, full of mingled fear and defiance that caught and held her attention, telling her exactly why Derek had insisted on purchasing this battered boy and bringing him home; even though he was clearly far from ideal.

Most humans, especially those who were marketed as personal slaves, were reasonably well taken care of, they were settled into their place in life, they had been trained and usually not too badly damaged, and so taking one home was completely safe.

This boy... he wasn't safe.

Talia agreed with Peter that he was unlikely to attack Derek, and that he would be easily enough subdued if he tried it. But she also agreed that the potential, however minor it might be, was clearly there.

For one thing, he was boldly meeting her gaze, staring at an alpha even before official introductions had been made by his owner, Derek. That wasn't something that human slaves did.

After a couple of seconds, he seemed to realize his mistake, and his eyes abruptly went wide and panicked and he slammed them shut, bowing his head down so fast and so far that his thin neck looked like it might snap. He was trembling, and Talia could only assume that he had been often abused by werewolves, for his reaction to be that immediate and that fearful. While it was true that he had made and maintained eye contact with an alpha when it was deeply unwise to do so, there was nothing in Talia's expression or body language that was in any way threatening.

So he merely expected punishment and violence as a matter of course. Talia frowned slightly, sad for the boy, but now even more worried over Derek's choice.

She loved her son, and she knew that he needed a challenge, but this slave needed fixing, and Derek was still healing from the damage Kate had done to him. Talia wasn't sure he was in a good place to try and heal someone else.

It was as though she'd sent Derek to the pet store and he'd come home with a feral wild animal from the forest. She was pretty sure there hadn't been a single other slave on offer in the warehouse earlier that day that would have been less well suited to being a personal slave.

But this was who Derek had chosen....

And it was obvious that there was nothing Talia could do short of ordering him to give up his new personal slave would make Derek in any way inclined to let go of this human boy. Their scents were already mingled, in the apartment, on the slave's body and clothes, and all over Derek as well.

Derek was watching her warily, ready to leap between her and his new slave, and Talia raised one brow a little judgmentally, silently asking him, "really?"

At least he had the good grace to look embarrassed, and he relaxed his tense stance, but he stayed standing between his mother and his personal slave in a manner that was so far from subtle that it was laughable.

Talia didn't feel like laughing, though. She wanted to trust Derek, that he had made the right choice, that he knew what he was doing, that this was going to work out for the best.... But she was going to need more convincing than this initial interaction.

"Derek," she said, her tone formal, but her hands outstretched, calling him in. He came to her arms readily enough and she hugged him tightly. "I'm so proud of you," she murmured in his ear, patting his back. He'd done as directed, gone out and chosen his own slave, and he hadn't forced Peter to do it, or made it necessary for his alpha to assign him one.

She was proud of Derek. And thinking about what he'd suffered at Kate Argent's hands had made her feel needy and protective over her son, so a loving embrace had been necessary. But, additionally, she wanted to show Derek's new slave by actions rather than words that she was a kind alpha, one who looked after her pack. She had no idea who'd owned him before; the papers Peter had delivered to her had been sketchy as hell and she was having the pack lawyer look into it right now. They stated that he had belonged to three previous owners without listing names, and while that wasn't illegal, it was in a pretty gray area.

Still, even without names, the scar on the boy's face, his emaciation, and his general demeanor, all of that indicated that he'd never known a kind owner, or if he had he hadn't been with them long.

"Now introduce me to the newest family member," Talia ordered gently, pushing Derek away and smiling at him before turning her attention to the boy hunched near the sofa. His papers had said he was sixteen, close to seventeen, but apart from his height, she would have assumed him to be younger. Maybe it was the turned-up nose, maybe it was how thin he was, but he didn't look sixteen. Talia was glad to see that he wasn't aged beyond his years, though, as happened to some who endured hardships; especially humans, who were so fragile.

The boy's eyes shot up at the word "family", though he caught himself and only stared at Talia's chin. She read disbelief and incredulity in the way his thick, winging brows arched, but he only bit his lip and remained silent.

"Mom, this is Stiles," Derek said, stepping back toward his slave, reaching out as though he wanted to touch him, but stopping himself. Talia was proud of him for his restraint, but she still foresaw the potential for disaster in this entire situation.

That wasn't the name that was on the paperwork Peter had brought her, but it was close enough to the boy's family name that Talia figured it was a nickname. Whether it had been given to him by his parents or claimed by the boy himself, she couldn't know, but Peter said he had given it to Derek when requested, and that counted for something.

"Hello, Stiles," she greeted with a warm smile, and this was where he had permission to meet her eyes, but he just swallowed and nodded, keeping his gaze about on level with her shirt collar.

"Stiles," Derek took another step closer to his new slave, though he still didn't touch him, "This is my mother and our alpha, Talia Hale."

Talia had been expecting at least a hint of recognition, because the Hale pack was large and well placed and politically important, but what she hadn't expected was for Stiles' to jerk his gaze abruptly up to her eyes, then snap it over to Derek, his face going completely white -- and he had already been dangerously pale -- his mouth falling open in what looked an awful lot like horror.

Talia might have taken offense, if whatever was going on in Stiles' head hadn't been so obviously deadly serious to him. He provided a further distraction when his knees buckled and went out from under him.

Derek lunged, attempting to catch the boy as he crumpled, and Talia could have told him that wasn't going to end well. But she didn't have time to speak out, and so all she could do was watch helplessly as Stiles jerked violently back away from Derek and ended up hitting the floor in a flailing tangle of lanky limbs, then skittered back away from them both across the carpet.

"Derek," Talia said, keeping her voice at a low volume in an attempt to avoid further spooking the young slave, who was by now up against the sofa in an attempt to get away from his owner, "Stand down."

Since this order had the force of his alpha behind it, Derek did as she'd directed, even though it was clearly against his natural instincts. He froze, dragging his attention away from Stiles and glaring fiercely at her. As if that expression on his owner's face was going to do anything to calm the panicking boy.

Talia took charge, not wanting everything to devolve into disaster; not any more than it already had, anyway. Stiles was scared of her, the more so once he'd heard her name, but now that he knew what pack Derek belonged to he was even more terrified of her son, for whatever reason.

So it would be better for Stiles if it was Talia who tried to calm him, no matter how much it was going to piss Derek off.

"I hear what are probably some potatoes about to boil over in the kitchen," she said, meeting Derek's gaze evenly, not giving an inch. She could compel him, but she'd much rather he see reason and go under his own volition.

For a long moment it seemed as though Derek was going to fight her on this, but she maintained her stare, and eventually his shoulders slumped and he went. Talia knew he was going to be listening to every word, but that was as it should be. Stiles was his personal slave; Derek was responsible for his health and well being.

He could trust her, though. Not only as his alpha, but also as his mother.

And as a mother, Talia's heart ached a little as she knelt gracefully and sat down beside Stiles on the floor, not close enough to threaten him, and careful not to box him in. She didn't know him yet, had only just met him, but he was about the same age as Cora, he was scarred and battered -- Peter had informed her about the vendor who'd struck him and she could see the dark bruise marring one cheekbone -- not to mention Derek clearly already valued him deeply. She was an alpha first and a mother second, but she was a mother, and Stiles was family now.

She gave him a small smile, and was encouraged to see that his eyes settled on her face, tracking her expression. There was still too much white around the warm brown of his irises, but he was at least seeing her, was no longer in a blind panic.

"It's all right," she told him, as soothingly as she could manage, using the tone she used to comfort a child with a scraped knee rather than the commanding voice of an alpha. "It really is, Stiles."

He flinched with her use of his name, drawing his knees up to his chest, his gaze falling to the floor between them. This wasn't ideal -- he was in a defensive position and wasn't meeting her eyes any longer -- but his heart wasn't beating quite as quickly, his breath coming a little easier.

Talia remained quiet, sharing his space without demanding anything from him for several minutes, allowing him to get himself under control. She was intelligent and empathetic, and she suspected she knew what had set Stiles off, but she wasn't going to ask him any questions until she could be sure it wouldn't drive him deeper into his obvious distress.

She could hear Derek banging around in the kitchen, frustrated and feeling banished, but obeying her subtle directive and staying out of the way for the moment. He'd dealt with the potatoes and was setting coffee to brew, keeping himself busy.

Finally Talia felt like it was safe enough to speak, but she wasn't going to tackle the subject head-on. She knew better than that.

"I'm happy to meet you," she said quietly, speaking the truth, and gaining a startled glance from Stiles that melted into a frankly incredulous expression.

She smiled broadly, not trying to hide her amusement. "No, I am," she insisted. "I'm always happy to meet a new member of the pack."

Stiles nodded jerkily, then shifted his eyes away again. His spidery-thin fingers were plucking at the hem of the sweatpants he had on, the nails bitten down to the quick. He was wearing a pair of Derek's socks that she could recall buying for her son a few years ago, fuzzy and patterned with white and red stripes. They'd been something of a joke and clearly Derek hadn't worn them in the time between then and now, but he'd put them on his personal slave.

Talia felt an unaccountable surge of affection for and protectiveness over Stiles. She still didn't know him, and if he tried to hurt Derek she would end him. But he was so vulnerable and his scent blended shockingly well with Derek's.... He already smelled like family, but she wasn't going to be rash and tell him so. She doubted he'd take it well.

Instead she leaned forward a little, reaching over and carefully, calmly claiming his nearer hand, holding it lightly.

"You're pack now," she reminded him, still foregoing the word "family" but thinking it. "You know that."

Stiles frowned down at his knees, then his eyes slanted sideways to meet hers cautiously.

"A piece of property can't be a pack member," he whispered, his voice tight and a little hard to understand. He tried to pull his hand back, but Talia refused to let him go and he didn't persist. She wasn't going to mark him the way Derek had done, but she did have to make sure he bore her scent before she left tonight.

She heard Derek drop something in the kitchen, but ignored that as she considered how best to reply.

"In the Hale pack," she said, not missing how he blanched at the name, "Each slave is considered a family member, not merely a piece of property."

"A family member who can be signed away for money," Stiles mumbled, still not looking at her but no longer fighting to retrieve his hand.

"In theory," Talia allowed, clasping his wrist with her free hand, making sure her scent was present on his skin. Marking him where his blood was surging close to the surface. He did have a point, because he did belong to the Hale pack, but there was so much more to it than that. "Stiles, we've never sold a slave once purchased, and we don't consider them to be possessions. Humans are individuals, and their lives have as much value as werewolves' lives do."

That had probably been too much, even though it was the truth, because the look Stiles turned on her was completely and utterly incredulous.

She shrugged easily, withdrawing her touch now that she'd not-so-subtly marked him with her scent. She'd also been hoping that holding his hand might calm him, but if anything it had had the opposite effect. He just didn't now her well enough to allow himself to be comforted.

"We'll set that aside for now," she declared confidently. "You'll find that it's true as time passes and we prove ourselves to you."

He looked back down at his knees, his expression so deeply sad that Talia's heart broke for him. It was obvious that he didn't believe her, and she was pretty sure he wasn't letting himself believe her, unwilling to allow himself to hope that this time his owner might be different.

"Derek isn't going to hurt you," she murmured, leaning in even closer, wanting to pull the boy into her arms and give him the kind of warm embrace he so clearly needed, but knowing it wouldn't be welcome. "You heard what happened with Argent?"

Stiles didn't respond, but his shoulders had gone tense and tight and he was swallowing convulsively. Talia was fairly certain that she could surmise what had sent him into a wild panic when he had placed Derek's name together with the Hale name.

"Derek grew up respecting slaves," Talia continued quietly, speaking smoothly, hoping against hope that her words would process and that Stiles might, might believe them. "The action of one rogue human didn't undo all of that. He's not going to take his revenge on Kate by torturing you."

In the kitchen she could hear Derek suddenly sit down heavily with a screech of chair legs on tile and a low sound of anguish, and she wanted to go in there and hold him close, comfort him, but now Stiles was looking at her with wide eyes that were awash with tears and she knew that she needed to focus on the human first. Derek was her son and her priority, it was true, but his new personal slave was in a very precarious place and she needed to see this through before she went to Derek.

Right now she needed to be an alpha first and a mother second, even though it was hard when she could hear and sense how distressed Derek was.

Sties shook his head slowly, still staring at her, and he sniffed but none of the tears broke free, even though his lashes were wet and starred around his big brown eyes.

"You're safe here," Talia insisted, dropping the topic of Kate as much for herself and Derek as for Stiles. She wasn't sure if Stiles was shaking his head because she'd gotten him wrong -- unlikely -- or if it was because he didn't trust her assurances -- far more likely -- but nothing would be gained by harping on the subject. "That same way you are not like Kate Argent, Derek isn't like your previous owners."

And, okay, evidently she hadn't been quite done with the subject. But that was all she was going to say on the matter.

She could smell coffee, and Stiles' pulse had calmed to almost normal levels. Talia suddenly felt the need to see her son again, to be able to see that he was safe and happy here in his own home, with his new personal slave, no matter how problematic Stiles might prove to be.

Switching to official alpha mode, Talia stood and reached down, lifting Stiles to his feet. He propped himself against the sofa, trying hard to hide this fact, and Talia made a mental note to make him an appointment with Deaton, preferably for tomorrow. He needed a full checkup -- most personal slaves came with documents proving that they'd seen a doctor within the last year, but of course the vendor who'd sold Stiles to Derek hadn't had anything of the kind -- and she'd be stunned if Deaton didn't give Derek a meal plan crafted to help an undernourished human regain his health and weight.

She could smell that Derek had fed the poor child pizza after getting him home, of all things, and hadn't even ordered a salad with it, but at least there would be meat, vegetables, and potatoes for dinner.

"Stiles," she said, getting back to the introductions that had been interrupted when Stiles had found out Derek's family name. "Welcome to the pack. We're happy to have you, and I'm very pleased to know that someone will be here to look after Derek for me."

Stiles blinked at her, and he didn't resist as she took both his hands in hers and moved in to rub his cheek with hers -- the side that wasn't bruised -- and then nosed at his temple. Some alphas required that a slave submit to having their throat symbolically exposed and lightly bitten, but Talia took that as a sign of weakness rather than a show of dominance, and besides, Stiles wasn't in a good mental place for that.

"I have something for you," Talia said, letting his hands drop and stepping back.

Derek appeared, moving silent as a shadow, and he looked trepidatious and anxious, which he never ought to be in his own home, but Talia was touched that he cared so much about Stiles' mental well being that he was hanging back and not yet approaching him even though he clearly wanted to.

Stiles startled a little when Derek slowly moved into his periphery, but he remained where he was, still and silent. He was tense but didn't seem inclined to panic or flee....

Talia wished that Stiles could look at Derek and see the abused little boy that she saw. It was true that Derek was and adult now, he was completely healed physically, and he was doing worlds better mentally and emotionally. But the very notion that he might visit on anyone else the pain that Kate had inflicted on him....

Well, Talia knew better. She knew her son. But he was a stranger to Stiles, and Stiles was also an abused little boy inside. Outside, as well, because he had yet to heal physically. He'd been betrayed by those who should have protected and treasured him, and now he saw danger in every werewolf. She couldn't blame him -- she imagined that letting his guard down in the past would only have resulted in more trauma -- but she did wish she could find the right words to convince Stiles that the Hales were different.

Only time would make that change, though. Talia loved Derek and trusted that he meant well, but she worried that he would get his heart broken if he never managed to win Stiles over. She still wasn't sure he was properly equipped to deal with such a damaged personal slave.

She was as concerned as Peter was, but for different reasons.

Still, it hadn't even been a full day yet. Stiles might be terrified of werewolves -- and Derek in particular now -- but he was also covered in Derek's scent, so at some point Derek had managed to coax him close... and Talia knew her son and knew that he wouldn't have forced Stiles into any physical contact.

So there was hope. But she thought that she was going to need to keep an eye on the situation. From a distance, so that Derek didn't get his back up and Stiles didn't get paranoid. But there wasn't anything unusual about an alpha being involved in the lives of her pack member and his personal slave. Especially not when said pack member was said alpha's beloved son.

Derek hovered as Talia went back to her jacket and fetched a medium-small box out of its pocket.

She hadn't wrapped it, and she was glad for that fact considering the trembling of Stiles' hands and his chewed-down nails. He accepted it with a confused look when she pressed it on him, long fingers curling around its edges, his wide eyes fixed on her face.

"An alpha's gift to a new family slave isn't a tradition," Talia explained, because it was clear that Stiles had no idea what was going on, "But it's not uncommon, and it's a Hale pack tradition."

Stiles' face flinched when she spoke the word "family" and his shoulders hunched at the name "Hale", but Talia just smiled reassuringly at him, and nodded at the box.

"Open it," she instructed, careful to speak warmly even though it was very clearly an order.

Derek was edging closer and closer to Stiles, and it made Talia's heart ache to see him so nervous when he'd clearly been feeling fairly confident with the boy when she'd first arrived, but after Stiles' reaction to finding out who Derek really was, she couldn't blame her son for dialing things way back. At least until they all got the ground firmly beneath them again.

The box had a little latch, nothing elaborate, but Stiles still fumbled with it, made clumsy with nerves, probably overly aware of two sets of werewolf eyes on him.

"Here," Talia offered, taking a step forward and taking it gently from him, holding it in her palms, letting Stiles open the lid and explore.

He glanced up at her, thick lashes fluttering, chewing on his lower lip until it was red, smelling of anxiety but not fear. She took that as progress.

Right now she would take any progress she could see.

Once he wasn't trying to balance the box in one hand, Stiles had an easier time thumbing the latch and then he raised the lid, though not without a few swift glances up at Talia. She wasn't sure what he was looking for, but she made sure to keep her expression neutral, friendly, and maybe a little indulgent; as nonthreatening as she could manage.

Inside the box rested two thin wristbands formed of braided leather, one of them just a little bigger than the other.

"That one is for you," Talia said, freeing one hand and pointing at the smaller one. "The other is for Derek. Neither of you have to wear them, but I thought they'd be handy for when you leave the apartment. This," she picked up the smaller band and turned it upside-down, indicating a small stainless steel panel on its underside, "Contains a panic button. You can pry it open and that will set off an alert in Derek's wristband. It will also activate a GPS tracking system."

She glanced over at Derek, who was staring at the wristbands in fascination. "It would hardly be helpful to know Stiles was in danger if you had no way to find him."

Stiles looked conflicted, and he was eyeing the wristband in Talia's hand as though it was something with fangs that might or might not bite him.

"The GPS doesn't come online unless you trigger it," Talia assured him. "And as I said, you're not required to wear them."

"You don't think Stiles would ever be in any danger, do you?" Derek asked, finally speaking aloud for the first time since he'd introduced Talia to Stiles. "No one has ever hurt any of our slaves... right?"

"No," Talia said, feeling a swell of pride in being able to speak the words. Derek might have been kidnapped right out from under her nose, a fact which still stung for so many reasons, but they hadn't lost a single slave in all the time Talia had been alpha, for any reason other than illness. "The Hale name is enough to keep any human in our pack safe. But it never hurts to be prudent."

She did not add that this gift had been chosen with Derek in mind as much as Peter's dire warnings about Stiles. Thanks to her younger brother she'd known even before she met Stiles that he moved and smelled like prey, and some more impulsive werewolves might react to that even if they knew he was under Hale protection. But the alarm and GPS were for Derek was well. She'd also been made aware by Peter of how immediately possessive of the boy Derek had been, and as Derek's mother and alpha she knew how uncertain and anxious Kate's capture and torture of her son had rendered him.

Derek hid it well, of course, and he'd even managed to make a major move toward independence in getting his own apartment. But Talia knew that he'd feel better knowing that Stiles had this wristband.

If he ever put it on, that was. Talia wasn't going to push that choice on him, and she didn't think Derek would either.

"At any rate," she said, taking the box back and closing it, "This is my welcoming gift to you, and I hope that if you have any needs you'll make them known to Derek so that he can pass them along to me."

There wasn't a chance in hell of that happening, she was well aware, but she had to speak the words. Maybe someday Stiles would trust in them, trust in her.

Maybe someday he would trust in Derek.

"Do I smell coffee?" she prompted, smiling warmly at Stiles, then moving over to hand Derek the box with the wristbands; taking a moment to give a quick, bracing squeeze to his nearer bicep.

"Let's go into the kitchen," Derek said, glancing at Stiles as he wrapped his fingers around the box. "I got the vegetables steaming and the potatoes are almost done, so it's about time to start the meat."

Talia nodded and smiled, trying not to let her sadness show as Stiles' shoulders tightened again and his face went almost as pale as it had done when he'd heard the Hale name. He swallowed convulsively, sent her a look that was dangerously close to terrified, and then he didn't wait for either of them but pushed off the sofa and darted into the kitchen.

Derek stared after him helplessly, brows knit and lips parted. Talia sighed, giving her son an impulsive hug, holding him close for a long, precious moment.

"Oh, Derek, sweetie," she murmured as she stepped back, reaching up and running her fingers through his hair. "You've really got your work cut out for you here."

Derek nodded miserably, and Talia cupped his cheek.

"I'm here for you," she promised earnestly, meeting and holding her son's beautiful eyes with her own steady alpha gaze, putting on her best mother face. "You're going to have to do most of the work, but I'm always here for you, and I will help you any way I can."

Maybe Peter was right and Derek had bitten off more than he could chew, Talia mused as they both followed his new personal slave into the kitchen. But this was only the first day, and she had faith in her son.

And maybe, just maybe, Stiles could fix what was still damaged in Derek at the same time Derek mended what was broken in the boy.

***

Stiles was failing every single test that his new owner's alpha set before him with such consummate skill that it was almost as though he was doing it on purpose.

He'd met the alpha's eyes before they'd been formally introduced; a transgression that she would have been well within her rights to correct with immediate and violent discipline.

He'd broken, shown weakness before her. Which, to be fair, most wolves didn't mind seeing... but he'd made a fuss, been out of control, forced her to make him her sole focus for long minutes, and that was the opposite of what a good slave should do.

He'd reacted to Derek's name, had shown interest in his own situation, had let fear for his personal safety override the need to serve his owner quietly and effectively. That wasn't acceptable behavior and he didn't know why Alpha Hale had humored him and actually joined him on the floor to speak to him, instead of ordering Derek to get his new slave under control or enforcing discipline herself.

And now... and now his owner had done most of the dinner prep. Cooking was one of the major responsibilities of any halfway decent slave, and Stiles had totally botched that on his very first day in Derek's apartment!

He might as well let Alpha Hale rip his throat out and get it over with, he thought in despair, as he made his way across the kitchen and got the grill ready to sear the steaks on.

Derek had already marinated the cuts of beef and, as he'd announced, the vegetables were steaming and the potatoes were boiling.

At least Stiles had already set the table; he'd gotten that task accomplished before Alpha Hale had arrived, memorizing where the utensils and other place-settings were as he retrieved them from the drawers and cupboards.

The bathroom in his new owner's apartment was huge and luxurious, and the kitchen was roomy and had plenty of counter space, as well as a walk-in pantry for non-perishables, but there was no dining room. Instead there was a table that was just set in one corner of the kitchen, not even in a nook, just a table with four chairs set around it.

Which meant that Stiles had an audience as he set about finishing the meal his owner had practically begun preparing alone. He tried to focus on the food and not let it get to him.

At least Derek and Alpha Hale had just poured themselves some coffee and then settled at the table, out of the way. Derek had actually moved to offer aid, but his alpha had stopped him with a elegant hand, shaking her head. Stiles was grateful for this courtesy. He'd already fucked this up too much to be salvaged, but he had to try.

Ignoring the wolves behind him -- something that was easier because they were carefully ignoring him -- Stiles seared the steaks for one minute on each side then put them in the oven that was set to broil. He took advantage of the five minutes this gave him to drain the water out of the potatoes and mash them with butter, milk, a little sour cream, and a lot of black pepper.

Behind him Derek and his mother conversed quietly about family members Stiles didn't know, and he knew he should be listening because these were members of his owner's pack, but he couldn't stop his brain running on its own little treadmill, playing the last half hour over and over again.

Alpha Hale had spun him pretty promises and tempting lies about "family" and safety, but Stiles didn't for a moment buy that. She did seem as though she was more reasonable and controlled than most of the other wolves Stiles had met, he could admit. Still, she was a wolf and her nature was to hunt anything that moved and sounded and smelled like prey....

And Stiles too often fit that profile too well.

Then there was his owner, Derek Hale, who had apologized to Stiles more than once. He had to be trying to lure Stiles into a false sense of security, trying to trick him into becoming complacent, because wolves didn't apologize, not ever.

Derek didn't have to try so hard, Stiles thought bitterly. With how much Stiles had been fucking up Derek would be able to take his pick of reasons to punish his new personal slave at any time now.

But Stiles was not going to fuck up this dinner!

Setting the finished potatoes on the warming burner at the back of the stovetop, Stiles opened the oven and carefully flipped the steaks with a pair of long tongs. He did know how to cook beef and other meats for wolves, and he was going to prove that he could do something right.

He wasn't one of those slaves that felt like they needed to serve their owners well, but he recognized the value in keeping his owners happy and disinclined to punish him. Also, he didn't like looking like an idiot, liked being able to prove himself.

Another five minutes gave him time to check the green beans for doneness. They were still a little crunchy, but Stiles thought that they were just about right; most wolves didn't like mushy vegetables. He tossed the green beans in butter and some sea salt and put them near the potatoes.

Then it was time to pull the steaks out and prop them on their sides on a clean plate he had ready, with help from the tongs, so that they could "rest".

Once that was accomplished, the meal prep was essentially over and Stiles took two more plates down from the cupboard, then paused.

"Who gets the extra piece of meat?" he asked, turning, and only processing belatedly that he was sure to be interrupting his owner's and his alpha's conversation. He flinched, cursing himself all over again.

Derek was frowning at him fiercely, and Stiles wished he could sink into the floor. Alpha Hale gave her son a curious look.

"What are you talking about?" Derek asked, standing and pacing over to where Stiles cringed against the counter. "There's three; one for each of us."

Stiles blinked.

"Oh, shit," Derek groaned, tossing his head back and rolling his eyes broadly. "I should have known you had some stupid idea in your head when you only set two places on the table."

Stiles glanced at the table and blinked some more as he noted that Derek had put out a third set of utensils and glassware while he'd been in the kitchen during Stiles' melt down in the living room.

"You're joining us for this meal, Stiles," Talia explained gently, giving him a small smile. She looked friendly and kind and Stiles wished that he could believe that she meant him well, but he knew better. Especially after he had repeatedly proved himself to be so far from an ideal personal slave for her beloved son.

At least he knew that the meal he had prepared was going to be delicious. Even though he was a little confounded by the fact that they... evidently... wanted him at their table?

"I thought...."

"We would never make you cook us food and then deny you the right to eat it," Talia said firmly, and now she looked a little disapproving.

Derek grabbed a third plate out of the cupboard and placed it on top of the two Stiles had already set on the counter, his handsome face set in an expression of disapproval.

"Plate up," he instructed shortly. "While I open the wine."

Stiles stood there, frozen, just breathing. He needed to adjust his world view. He just... he didn't eat at the table with wolves. If he was lucky they didn't finish everything and he was able to get some scraps while he cleaned up after them. Even back when he'd been much younger and getting regular meals he'd never eaten with his owners. That just wasn't done. This wasn't... this wasn't right.

"No wine for Stiles," Alpha Hale spoke up, smiling at him again, though her eyes looked sharp and she was watching him closely.

"Duh, Mom," Derek said with remarkably maturity, moving smoothly over to the fridge. Stiles tore his gaze away from his owner's ass and arms.... He had to remember that beauty equaled cruelty; the more so now that he knew that this was Derek Hale, who'd been held captive and tortured by a human slave.

No matter what Alpha Hale had said to try and reassure Stiles, he knew better. And he wasn't going to let himself forget the lessons life had driven into him, repeatedly. It was dangerous to forget, to let down his guard.

"Humans can't have the same wine we drink anyway," Derek pointed out, grabbing a bottle and corkscrew. There were already two wineglasses on the table, where Stiles had placed them earlier, no wineglass at the third place setting that Derek had added.

"Also he's underage," Alpha Hale put in, still smiling at Stiles in a way that was really starting to disconcert him.

"Yeah, that's the big consideration here," Derek snarked, rolling his eyes again. "Not that the wine would poison him or anything."

Stiles found he was watching the flex of his owner's forearms as he twisted the corkscrew, but then caught himself and began to serve up the food before it could all pass the point of no return.

It made him feel strange and uncomfortable to set down meat, potatoes, and vegetables on a plate for himself. He couldn't do anything about the steak portioning -- though there was one smaller piece that was clearly meant for him -- but he made sure not to take too much of the sides.

This attempt was thwarted when Derek made a grouchy sound behind him and plopped more potatoes on his plate while Stiles' back was turned and he was putting the tongs in the sink rather than leaving them on the counter.

"I'll carry these over," Derek informed Stiles, grabbing two of the plates and jerking his head to the side. "Go and sit down, okay?"

Stiles' heart started pounding and he felt the overwhelming urge to vomit, or to run out of the kitchen and find somewhere to hide.... But it was no use running from a couple of wolves, and there was nowhere he could successfully hide in Derek's apartment. So he did as directed and crossed to the table.

His pulse was racing and he was sweating. He was trembling pretty badly, he knew, and it was probably a good idea that he not attempt to transport the plates of food himself, even though that was his task.

His hands had been steady while he'd been cooking, performing the familiar actions, but right now they were shaking so hard he wondered how he was going to hold onto his fork, much less use a knife on the beef.

"This smells amazing, Stiles," Alpha Hale said warmly when Derek put her plate down in front of her. "And it looks perfect."

Stiles hunched, his every instinct screaming at him about the wrongness of it all, and this scream became a wailing siren of panic blaring in his ears as Derek put the other plate he was holding down in front of Stiles before going back for his own.

That was wrong, wrong, and more wrong! Wolves didn't serve humans before themselves! Wolves didn't serve humans, ever! Stiles clasped his hands tightly between his thighs, his shoulders up around his ringing ears, his heart beating so hard it ached in his chest, white fuzzing around the edges of his eyesight. He wasn't having a panic attack, but he was panicking.

Alpha Hale generously ignored his breakdown, and didn't comment on her son's breach of social etiquette, instead pouring the wine for herself and Derek. There was ice water set at each place, which Derek must have done while Stiles had been losing control of himself out in the living room, and that was yet another failure on Stiles' part.

But freaking out at the table when he'd been directed to join his owner and Alpha for a meal was not the way to retrieve the situation, and so Stiles fought tooth and nail to regain control of himself, waging a hopefully silent internal war.

He forced himself to breathe more deeply, focusing on the fragrant food sitting before him and how hungry he was. The pizza seemed years ago and hadn't rested easily in his stomach. If he could just get over the shock and horror of having to eat with wolves, he knew that this meal would treat him much better.

Through the ringing in his ears he thought he heard Derek say his name, and so he tore his gaze away from the steak on his plate, to see if he was needed in some way.

But Derek was looking at his mother, not at Stiles, and Stiles relaxed even more. Alpha Hale was murmuring something he couldn't make out, leaning in close to Derek, one hand resting lightly on his forearm. Stiles noted that Derek's hand was clenched in a tight fist, the muscles under Talia's hand pulled tense and hard, but he was more concerned with getting his own body and his own tension under control.

After what seemed like hours -- though it had probably only been a minute or two -- Stiles felt as though he could take a full breath and that he might actually survive this.

His instincts were still telling him how wrong it was to sit at the table and eat a full meal, but he firmly told himself that this was what his owner wanted. So even if it was counter to everything Stiles had been taught or learned by experience, this was what he was going to do now.

And Alpha Hale had been right; the steak smelled amazing.

"Is there any bread?" Talia asked, but the question seemed to be directed at Derek rather than Stiles. Which was good, because Stiles didn't know the answer.

Derek nodded jerkily and wordlessly rose, opening a breadbox on the counter that Stiles had assumed to be merely ornamental, pulling out a package of store-bought sourdough rolls.

"I'm sorry," Stiles managed to blurt out, eyes going wide. "I didn't-- I should have--"

"You didn't know about these," Derek growled, glaring angrily, his tone and expression at complete odds with his words. "It's fine."

Stiles shrank back into his chair at the way his owner bit those last two words out.

That only seemed to make Derek angrier. He sliced open the plastic of the package with his claws and dumped the rolls into a small basket that had been sitting near the breadbox, then grabbed the covered ceramic butter dish that had also been on the counter before stomping over and slamming them both on the table.

"Derek."

That was all Alpha Hale said, in a quiet command, but it sucked the air out of Derek's lungs, and he collapsed down into his chair, his thick brows tilting upward in the center and his lips dragged down at the corners in a deeply tragic expression.

Stiles actually felt bad for his owner, wolf though he was. He wasn't sure what was wrong and he was afraid that whatever was wrong would come out of his hide after dinner was over, but Derek just looked so despondent.

Alpha Hale calmly plucked a roll out of the basket and buttered it, placing it on her plate before picking up her fork and steak knife.

"Dig in," she commanded, glancing meaningfully at first Derek then Stiles.

Derek looked sullen, but Stiles was feeling better now. He couldn't even be sure why. Maybe because Derek's anger was more familiar to him than his unaccountable tendency to apologize to Stiles. More likely Alpha Hale's ease and calmness were affecting him. He definitely felt better for having a concrete order to follow.

Stiles was still on alert, anxious as he picked up his fork and knife, making sure to wait until Alpha Hale had already set her own knife to her meat before he followed her example. But the anxiety was down to normal levels. And after ending up at the wolves' dinner table, eating their food, after making a huge botch of meeting his new owner's alpha -- who was by extension Stiles' own alpha -- feeling a normal level of anxiety was a welcome thing.

"This is perfectly done," Alpha Hale told Stiles after smoothly slicing into her meat and tasting her first bite. "Excellent job, Stiles."

Stiles nodded. There was very little he could do right, but cooking was one of those things. He was decent at cleaning, if he could avoid breaking anything. Laundry was... more of a hit-or-miss skill set. Cooking, though, he had down.

Derek had been the one to marinade the meat; Stiles had only cooked it. Stiles wanted to tell Alpha Hale this, but that would draw her attention to yet another of Stiles' failures, and he was kind of afraid to call attention to either himself or his owner right now.

Derek was miserably scooping up mashed potatoes, and Stiles wished he was anywhere but here. Well, he'd spent pretty much his whole life wishing that.

The steak was amazing, though, once Stiles had managed to slice a thin piece off and get it to his mouth. He almost never got to eat hot, fresh food, and he didn't think he'd ever had a cut of meat of this quality. It was tender, juicy, and Derek had seasoned it in a way Stiles had never managed before and didn't think he could duplicate.

When he'd started eating, Stiles' stomach had been so knotted that he hadn't thought he'd be able to make get anything down.

But Alpha Hale was exuding an almost palpable aura of calm; enough even to affect Stiles, who was human, and he found that he actually was hungry and was able to enjoy his meal. It had a definite impact on Derek's attitude, especially as his mother engaged him in conversation again.

While things weren't exactly cheerful, the mood lifted when Derek and Talia began talking quietly about their family again. The wine might have helped, judging by the way the apples of Derek's cheeks and the tips of his ears went pink and his voice rose to a louder volume than was his norm.

Stiles kept his head down, taking great care in slicing up his steak, in stabbing exactly three green beans at a time, in dragging his forkful of potatoes through the steak juices before lifting it to his mouth. He had to agree with his Alpha that the meal was delicious. It was a brand new experience and he wanted to appreciate it, he really did. But he barely put a dent in it before his body let him know in no uncertain terms that he was finished eating.

He gnawed on his lower lip, tasting salt and beef fat, trying to will himself to eat more. He knew, though, that if he tried he was going to be sick. There would be no hiding that from the wolves and then they'd know that he had wasted the food that Derek had spent money on, spent his own time and effort preparing, and--

"You're done with this, right, Stiles?" Alpha Hale asked, just as he was beginning to really work himself up, his fingers clenching around his utensils.

He looked up, mouth falling open, as she rose and took his plate from in front of him.

"I'll just wrap it up for later," she said, smiling at him, and she shouldn't be... she shouldn't be performing such a menial task, that was what Stiles was here for. But it was too late to protest -- and what could he do; demand that an alpha stop what she was doing? -- and she was clearly at home in Derek's kitchen because she did as she'd said, stretching plastic wrap over the plate then putting it in the fridge.

"Sorry," Stiles croaked out, dropping his knife and fork was a little clash, lowering his head in submission.

"For what?" she asked, walking back over to the table and putting her hand on the back of his chair. He flinched before he could stop himself, but she was still radiating that soothing calm and he felt his shoulders relax almost unwilled. "You've clearly been denied food for too long, and as a result your stomach has shrunk. I wouldn't expect you to be able to eat as much as two healthy werewolves."

Derek was staring at Stiles, almost looking pained, and Stiles couldn't figure out why so he tried to ignore it.

"I can do the dishes now," he offered, looking up at Alpha Hale, though he was careful to avoid meeting her eyes.

"That would be fine," she replied before Derek could speak up, though he did let out a little sound of protest. "Derek and I are going to be in the living room. Come and join us once you're done, please."

Stiles nodded, licking his lips again. It felt good, having something normal to do, and he didn't even cringe away when Alpha Hale reached down and pressed her warm hand to the nape of his neck. It was safer for him if he bore her scent, and while he couldn't bring himself to trust in it, she hadn't yet been anything but kind and considerate toward him....

Then he remembered what Kate Argent had done to her son, who was Stiles' new owner, and his heart thumped in his chest all over again.

The Hale family had every reason to hate humans, and Stiles was in as vulnerable a position as a human could be, here in Derek's apartment, alone with Derek once Alpha Hale had left.

Stiles considered that he would be lucky if he survived the night.

But right now there were dishes to do, and that was going to require Stiles' full attention. He didn't dare to break anything, not his first night here. Cleaning didn't come as naturally to him as cooking did, but he knew how to wash plates and utensils.

Talia squeezed, lightly, then she and Derek took their wineglasses and a fresh bottle of wine and left the room.

Stiles breathed easier as soon as he was alone, and squared his shoulders. There were empty plates and bowls and glasses and a grill pan to wash, and Stiles could do that.

He wasn't sure of his place here or what was expected of him... but he knew how to do dishes.

***

"Mom, I have a dishwasher," Derek protested, keeping his voice down as he and his mother settled on the sofa. He could hear Stiles moving around in the kitchen, could hear him running water in the sink, and he wanted to go back in there and tell the boy to just rinse everything and throw it in the washer, save him all the unnecessary effort.

"Hush, Derek," his mother said, reaching over and palming the back of Derek's neck the way she had done to Stiles. Derek took comfort from her familiar touch, and his nostrils flared as he breathed in, appreciating the way she was marking him with faint traces of Stiles' scent at the same time she shared her own. Not that he hadn't already gotten covered in Stiles' scent when they'd share the bed earlier.

That seemed ages ago now, though, Derek thought with a sense of despair. When Stiles had only feared him as a new owner and hadn't been absolutely terrified by knowledge of who exactly Derek was. The werewolf who'd been tortured by a human....

The werewolves Derek met -- though he tried not to meet many -- seemed evenly divided between pitying him and regarding him as being weak because of what Kate had done to him. As if any of them wouldn't have succumbed to the wolfsbane and wound up in the same straits if it had happened to them!

That was why Derek avoided other people. His family mostly treated him the same as they always had.

Well, they tried.

His mother and Peter tended to be more protective. Laura didn't tease him about everything the way she used to. And Cora actually seemed to resent the attention Derek got, not seeming to realize it was largely negative attention -- or attention gained in a negative way, at any rate -- and that Derek would give it all up in a heartbeat if he could.

But Derek got by, he'd gotten on with his life.... It helped that he knew his mother loved him no more and no less than before. And it helped to have watched Peter tear Kate's throat out.

Derek would have been appalled by the violence... before the things Kate had done to him. But the pain she had inflicted had changed something in him, and it had only filled him with a sense of relief so powerful that he'd have fallen to his knees if he hadn't already been there, once he saw the last light flicker out of her eyes.

What the torture had not done, however, was make him in any way desirous of inflicting similar pain on any living being; not even Kate, if her death hadn't been so quick. Despite what Stiles seemed to think -- or what Derek's mother thought Stiles thought, but she was usually right about such matters -- Derek would never hurt Stiles. Especially not because he was human.

But Derek despaired of how he was going to convince Stiles of this.

"Let Stiles do the dishes by hand," his mother continued, moving her hand down to grip his wrist, this simple contact grounding him when he felt a little like flying apart. "You have a drying rack, right?"

Derek nodded. It was for the things, like wineglasses and thermos coffee cups, that couldn't go in the dishwasher, and usually he dumped his empty water bottles in it before moving them en masse to the recycling bin in the pantry.

"He needs something familiar to do. He needs to feel useful," Talia continued, giving Derek a small smile. She was clearly as disturbed as Derek was by all the abuse Stiles had so obviously undergone in the past, but she was dealing with it a lot better than he was managing. Well, she was the alpha. She had more control, over herself as well as her pack. Also, she was his mom.

Derek nodded again, grimacing, but he saw her point.

"Derek," she said, dragging his attention away from where Stiles was splashing hot water in the kitchen, his movements alternating between spastic and deliberate, as though he was trying to restrain himself and then forgetting, only to remember all over again.

"Yeah?" Derek asked hoarsely, waiting for her to tell him she agreed with Peter that Derek had made a mistake when he'd picked Stiles, waiting for her to tell him he needed to choose a new personal slave, ready to fight claw and fang for the right to keep Stiles.

"He's damaged but not broken," she surprised him by saying. She withdrew her hand, pouring them both more wine, and settled back into the soft cushions of his sofa. "He has a spark that hasn't been beaten out of him."

"That's..." Derek cleared his throat and cradled his wineglass between his hands, marveling over the fact that his fingers were steady. He felt shaky inside, but he seemed to be holding it together okay, outwardly at least. "That's exactly what I thought when I first saw him."

His mother gazed at him, her face soft and smooth but something dangerous in her gaze.... Or maybe that was only Derek's conscience speaking. She didn't know how strongly he felt about Stiles, though... did she?

Well, she was his mother and his alpha. She probably knew Derek's heart better than he did.

"Tell me about that," she urged. "I only have Peter's side of the story."

Derek groaned and grimaced. He loved his uncle, loved him deeply. They'd been close while growing up, since neither of them had had real friends their own age, and Peter had been the one who'd found Derek and killed Kate for him. But Peter Hale was, at the same time, an immensely annoying individual, and when he and Derek disagreed, they tended to vigorously disagree.

At least Derek knew that his mother felt the same way about Peter that he did. Peter was her younger brother, after all, and she'd been dealing with Peter's drama since before Derek had even been born.

Considering the way Cora was currently acting, Derek shuddered to think what teenage Peter must have been like. Derek himself... well, he'd been a bit of a hormonal handful, he thought, but then he'd been taken captive by Kate and things had gotten a lot different after that. He still wasn't quite sure what his "normal" should be, but he usually accepted it as what his life was now.

"I saw him and knew that he was mine," he said simply. He felt like he needed to explain more, explain better, but his mother was nodding, sipping her wine but keeping her gaze fixed on his face.

Derek buried his nose in his own wineglass, feeling his cheeks flush even though he couldn't have said why.

He wasn't sure what he expected his mother to say in answer to that, but what he hadn't expected was for her respond evenly, "His scent mingles seamlessly with yours."

"I thought I imagined that," Derek blurted, lowering his wineglass and staring at his mother a little incredulously. He hadn't dreamed he'd get confirmation or approbation from his mom, his alpha, even though he'd been hoping....

"No, it's real," she assured him, smiling fondly. Then she sobered. "That doesn't mean you don't have a challenge ahead of you in dealing with him."

Derek nodded. "You did it for me," he said before he thought. "So I can do it for Stiles."

He almost expected his mom to get upset with him for comparing the bond between an alpha and her beta -- between a mother and her child, no less -- to the bond between himself and his new personal slave, but instead she was looking at him with warm eyes and affection curling up the corners of her lips.

"What does it mean?" Derek asked, setting his wineglass on the coffee table. He'd had almost too much and he needed to reel it back in. After the disaster of Stiles meeting his mom, Derek had been eager to take a little of the edge off, but once they were done entertaining and it was just him and Stiles in the apartment, Derek needed to have all of his senses and every brain cell functioning at their highest levels.

"That you 'recognized' Stiles?" Talia asked, putting into words what Derek had been feeling. "Or that your scents blend so well?"

"Yes," Derek replied, because he had to think that the two facts were related. It seemed pretty ridiculous to imagine that they weren't.

His mom smiled again, reaching over and tussling his hair. Then she sobered. They could hear Stiles draining the sink and wiping down the counters. Soon he would run out of tasks to keep him busy and have to come join them as directed.

"I'm not sure," she replied, speaking slowly, as though she was choosing her words with care, which made Derek feel a little nervous. "Generally those sorts of things happen between werewolves, not between a werewolf and a human."

Derek sat back, feeling a little stunned. "You mean... like you and Dad?" he got out through lips that felt numb.

Talia shook her head slightly and glanced toward the kitchen. "Not exactly like that, I don't think," she said, which only made Derek feel more freaked out, because she wasn't flat-out denying his words. "But I now understand Peter's crack about a human son-in-law."

"Mom!"

She shot Derek a quick look, taking in his expression, probably reading the tangle of emotions before Derek could even figure out what he was feeling.

"Hush," she repeated, tilting her head toward where Stiles' stocking feet were shuffling over the tile of the kitchen floor, hesitant, prevaricating before he headed into the living room as directed, probably trying to figure out some other way to stall.

Derek bit his lip.

Talia's face softened and she looked at him with so much love it made his heart ache. "Don't over-think it," she instructed kindly, reaching and clasping his hand in hers. "Don't get hung up on why, just let it be. You're more likely to reach an understanding that way, if you're not fighting it or thinking it's something it isn't. Ignore Peter. Ignore me, even. Just listen to what your heart is telling you."

Derek nodded, taking his alpha's words and doing his best to internalize them. It would be for Stiles' benefit as well as his own to do as his mother was advising. He couldn't forget what she had just hinted at... but faced with the reality of Stiles in his home and as a part of his life now, he could let it slide to the back of his mind.

He was relieved, overall, that his alpha wasn't going to tell him he couldn't keep Stiles. He was grateful that his mother saw what he saw in the boy; something precious that needed healing. And he'd be even more happy once this dinner was over and it was just him and Stiles in his apartment. He loved his mother, more than anyone else on the face of the Earth, but he needed to be alone with Stiles, needed to have the boy all to himself.

"Thank you for making dinner and for cleaning up afterward," Talia spoke up as Stiles slunk into the living room. He seemed calmer than he had been during dinner, but that wasn't saying a lot. Derek had thought he was going to have a panic attack when he'd been asked to sit at the table, and it had taken everything in him -- and a direct order from his alpha -- not to go over and try to comfort him.

Considering that Stiles was now terrified of Derek, thinking he was going to torture him in twisted vengeance for the actions of another human slave, that had been a smart move on Talia's part, but it had still raised Derek's hackles to be denied the option.

Stiles froze, staring at her in shock. He looked so young, and yet had so clearly seen so much. A lot like Derek, in fact. He wanted to go to Stiles and sweep him up in his arms and never let go, but... well, that was about the worst thing he could do right now.

"It was...." Stiles swallowed tightly. "That was my duty. I'm... I'm Derek's personal slave now."

Derek's mother nodded gracefully and didn't argue. "True. But just because something is a required action, that doesn't rob it of its value. And you did a beautiful job crafting the meal; that hard work and talent requires acknowledgment."

"Derek did most of the work," Stiles mumbled into his chest, his head hanging, the words seemingly dragged out of him against his will. He was still standing in the doorway to the living room, hovering, using the jamb to steady himself on his feet, and Derek broke.

"Come in and sit down," he directed. He wanted to assure Stiles that he hadn't minded doing a lot of the prep for dinner, that it definitely hadn't been "most" of the work, wanted to assure him he'd help Stiles with the meals in the future too, but he was intelligent enough to know that would set Stiles off even worse. His mother was right; at least for the moment, Stiles needed things that were familiar to him.

Derek wasn't about to abuse or neglect or punish Stiles -- actions that he was clearly all too familiar with -- but he needed to keep in mind that a lot of slaves weren't treated like family the way the Hale slaves were. And while he didn't want to give Stiles a skewed idea of what was going to be expected of him, he couldn't try to force this new mindset on him, whole parcel, right away either.

It was going to be a tough balance to maintain. But for both their sakes Derek needed to give it his best try.

Stiles sucked his lower lip into his mouth then moved forward as directed. Remembering earlier in the day when Stiles had wanted to kneel before him, Derek indicated the loveseat that was kitty-corner to the sofa he and his mother occupied. "Sit there."

Derek could see the tension in Stiles' shoulders, but having explicit orders seemed to help, and he gingerly settled himself on the edge of the loveseat.

"Stiles," Talia spoke up, drawing those big brown eyes to her in muted alarm, "I'm making an appointment for you to see the Hale Emissary, who is also a doctor. Probably early tomorrow afternoon, if that's okay."

Stiles looked over at Derek fearfully. As though he, what, expected Derek to say no? Maybe he was made anxious by the alpha addressing him directly as though he had autonomy, when he'd made it obvious that every other owner he'd had had regarded him as a possession.

Derek tried to smile encouragingly at Stiles, but his mouth felt like it twisted wrong, and from the alarm that flooded Stiles beautiful, liquid eyes, he failed miserably at being reassuring. Dammit.

"That sounds good," Derek answered for Stiles, because he felt like this was what Stiles needed right now. His own shoulders loosened a little when Stiles' body relaxed a large part of the sudden tension that had filled it. "It'll give us time for lunch first."

His mother gave them both an approving look. "I'll also order some clothing more in Stiles' size," she added, this time seeming to be speaking to both of them. Derek looked at the way Stiles had needed to roll up the sleeves of the shirt he had on, his bony wrists exposed, and the way the collar was yawing around his collarbones, and he was grateful to his alpha for providing, even though his instincts wanted to keep Stiles in his own clothing forever and ever.

"Of course, if you want to take him shopping so that he can choose his own, that's fine too," she added. "But I assume you're going to want to avoid venturing into public for a while."

Derek nodded vigorously. The thought of so many strangers surrounding Stiles, potentially touching him, brushing their scent on him, it made him want to growl.

"I-- Alpha Hale, I don't need-- I mean--"

Stiles looked as though he was in danger of swallowing his tongue, his eyes huge with alarm again, and Derek began to itch to have his mother gone. He appreciated everything she had done and was going to do, but she was upsetting Stiles and she was an interloper in his apartment. She was his mother and his alpha and he needed her like he needed air, but right now he wanted to be alone with Stiles. To try and calm him. To try and tame him.

"It'll be all right," he said soothingly. "Stiles, you do need clothes."

"Two." Stiles literally choked, his hoarse voice coming out even rougher, and there was sweat beading at his hairline and temple. "I only need. I can wash. I don't need." He wasn't even speaking in complete sentences right now.

"Hush." This time Talia was commanding Stiles instead of Derek, and Stiles subsided, retreating until he was resting against the back of the loveseat. Derek was just glad he hadn't slid off onto the floor.

Rising off the sofa, Talia went over to Stiles, perching beside him, keeping a careful amount of space between them but holding his gaze.

"I understand your hesitation," she said to Stiles. "But the Hale pack is large, prestigious, and wealthy. Our slaves dress as nicely as we do. I'm not asking you to build a large wardrobe by yourself; I'll choose your clothing initially. But you have to let us dress you. All right?"

By the time she'd finished speaking, Stiles was nodding so hard he looked like his neck would snap. "Yes, Alpha," he rasped. "Yes, I understand."

"Oh, sweetie." Giving vent to an uncharacteristic surge of sentimentality, she reached for Stiles, cupping his face and giving him a quick kiss on the brow. Not scent marking him. Just expressing affection like she might do for one of her own children. "You'll be okay, I promise."

Even though he loved and respected his mother and he wanted her to like Stiles, Derek felt a nearly uncontrollable surge of jealousy and possessiveness as she touched his boy.

Fortunately for everyone, Talia knew what she was doing, and before Derek could wolf out or Stiles could freak out, she was standing again and moving away from the loveseat.

"Derek, see me out," she said, arching a brow at him and smiling crookedly, no doubt reading his conflicted emotions on his face, no matter how hard he tried to remain expressionless.

As Derek got to his feet she turned back toward Stiles once more. Stiles rose as well, looking completely confused but not panicked anymore. So there was that.

"Stiles, it has been a pleasure to meet you," Talia said with deep sincerity. "You cooked us a lovely meal and I look forward to returning the favor. Once you're more settled and more certain of your place here, I'll invite Derek to bring you over to my home."

Thick, long lashes flickered, and amber flashed, and Derek wished that he could see that pretty red mouth curve into a smile, but he knew that there was no way Stiles was going to be smiling any time soon.

Instead, Stiles bit at his lip with white teeth, his cheeks pale, and then he nodded. That was... progress? Derek hoped.

Derek followed his mother to the door, as she'd directed, even though it killed him to walk away from Stiles.

She pulled on her jacket and then took both his hands in hers. "Derek," she said, softly enough that Stiles shouldn't be able to hear her, back in the living room. "Do what you can for Stiles, but be sure to look after yourself as well."

"I will," he promised, not wanting her to worry. "I'm doing okay, though, Mom. Really."

"I know you are," she smiled. "That was why I pushed you to get a personal slave; not because you were 'overdue' or anything. I didn't want you to be alone anymore. I figured you could look after your slave and they could look after you...."

"And then I came home with Stiles," he finished wryly.

She shrugged, giving his hands a little squeeze. "It's all a little more... intense... than what I anticipated for you," she admitted. "But your scents blend and you recognized him, and I think... I think you can help him, Derek. Just don't try to hard to fix him. He's damaged but he's not broken."

"I've got it," he told her, because he was pretty sure he did. "Really, Mom."

She let go of his hands and pulled him into a tight hug.

"I'll text you the time you need to be at Deaton's," she said. "And you text or call me if you need anything. Even if you only have a question about humans or you just need to talk. Okay?"

"Got it," Derek repeated, and kissed his mother's cheek before drawing back. "Anything at all, I'll contact you."

"And keep me updated when you can," she said, lifting her brows. "I understand why I had to hear from Peter that you'd brought a slave home, but...."

"Sorry," Derek mumbled, hanging his head. He actually was a little ashamed of his behavior earlier in the day. He'd been so concerned with how he had reacted to Stiles and so intent on getting him into his home that he'd been rude to Peter and hadn't contacted his alpha about the newest member of her pack the way he should have done.

"I get it," his mother assured him. "It's okay. But stay in touch or I'm coming over here."

And with that last semi-threat his mother was gone and Derek was alone in his apartment with a human boy who was terrified of him. Great. It was what he'd wanted, but now that he had it he was at something of a loss as to what to do next.

Between the early morning Peter had forced on him, the stress of walking through a warehouse crowded with strangers and choosing a slave then dealing with him once they were home, and the wine he'd had, Derek was actually feeling really tired, even though it was only early evening. The nap he'd taken earlier hadn't really helped. He yawned widely, walking back into the living room, and had to smile when he saw that Stiles was nodding off on the loveseat.

He didn't, however, feel like smiling when he spoke Stiles' name and the boy startled awake, sliding off the loveseat and onto his knees on the floor. Then he realized what he'd done instinctively, and was even more freaked out.

"Come on," Derek said, taking a page from his mother's book and ignoring both of Stiles' reactions, tipping his head toward the hall. "I'll show you your room."

He desperately wanted to ask Stiles to share his bed with him again, could imagine how it would feel to curl up around the boy, underneath the comforter this time. But he knew that if he asked, Stiles would take it as an order, and he'd do what he thought Derek was telling him to.

It was tempting.... But Derek couldn't do that to Stiles. Not tonight. Not when Stiles was so certain that Derek wanted to hurt him. The best thing Derek could do for both of them was to give Stiles a place where he felt safe. He kind of hated that he was mature enough to recognize this and act on it, but now that the idea had crossed his mind, he couldn't make it go away.

The apartment's second bedroom was specifically meant for a personal slave and so it was far less roomy than the master bedroom, but Talia and Peter had made sure for Derek when he'd moved in that it was furnished nicely and was as comfortable and welcoming as his own room was; just on a smaller scale.

Stiles' eyes were huge as he stood just inside the doorway and looked around. Derek wondered where he'd slept before; envisioning garages, pantries, basements, maybe cupboards under the stairs....

He hoped not, but he suspected he wasn't far off. He wasn't going to ask, though. He was just glad that he could give Stiles this.

The drawers of the small dresser in the corner were empty, but Derek hoped that Stiles would sleep in the shirt he had on, since it smelled of him. It wasn't as good as having Stiles in Derek's bed, covered in sheets that he'd slept in, wrapped up in Derek's arms, but it was something, at least.

"This is...?"

"This is your room," Derek said, stating the obvious because Stiles needed to hear it. "Sorry you don't have your own bathroom; this is a small apartment. You can use anything in the main bathroom. I want you to use my products. The blue toothbrush is mine, and there's a new one for you, still in the package. It's in the cupboard above the sink, behind the mirror."

Stiles was staring at him with glazed eyes. Derek felt a little glazed himself, but he didn't dare push any more than he already had.

"If you need anything," he said, even though he knew the words were useless, "Just knock on my door. Sleep well tonight."

That last invocation came out a little stiffly, but he was fighting the urge to just grab Stiles and drag him into his bedroom, make sure that Stiles slept well.... He restrained himself because doing so would only be a guarantee that the opposite of that happened.

Leaving Stiles just inside the doorway to his room, Derek went to his own bedroom, changed into a pair of pajama bottoms. Making his way to the bathroom he could see that the door to Stiles' room was still open but now he couldn't see his slave. He could hear his heart beating, though, and knew he was in there.

Derek commandeered the bathroom, leaving the door ajar in case Stiles wanted to join him -- vain hope though he knew that it was -- and went through his night-time routine; including brushing his teeth with his blue toothbrush.

Then he was back in his bedroom. He closed the door, and sat on his bed, checking his phone for emails or texts. There were a few, so he read them, trying not to listen as Stiles moved around softly and uncertainly in the hallway and bathroom, then retreated back to his own bedroom.

Derek had felt tired, but when he climbed under the covers all he could do was lay there stiffly and listen to Stiles' heart beating down the hall, Eventually he gave up, wandering out into the dark apartment, feeling cold and empty without Stiles in his arms, or at least in his bed.

He might have dozed off a little, but it was entirely possible that Derek spent the entire night sitting on the floor outside Stiles' bedroom, wide awake, listening to his heart beating and his shallow breathing....

And if he did, then he might have heard that Stiles didn't sleep at all that night either.

Maybe it would have been better if he'd had Stiles sleep with him in his bed, as he'd done when they had napped. But Derek was trying, he was trying to do this right.

He wanted to be the best he could be for Stiles, even if that meant being his owner.... But he did hope that someday Stiles would realize and accept that he was family.

***

Stiles had never had a room of his own before. He didn't know how to deal with this unexpected development, and he didn't think he liked that.

Scratch that; he definitely didn't like it.

There was a bed. It wasn't huge, like the bed in his owner's room, and the comforter on it wasn't eiderdown, but it was still more luxury than Stiles had ever had assigned to himself in all of his life. It was much nicer than the bed his parents had shared when he'd still been tiny enough to crawl in with them... and he was supposed to sleep here?

It was terrifying. Almost as terrifying as knowing that he was now the personal slave to a wolf who'd been tortured by a human, who was sure to hate and despise all humans now, no matter how good a show he put on in front of his alpha.

But Derek hadn't done anything. Nothing other than banish Stiles to this bedroom, which was meant to be his, which might be tiny by wolf standards but was cavernous by Stiles' standards.

Maybe that was part of the psychological torment, Stiles thought, though wolves generally tended to go in more for the rending of flesh and bruising of bones. It was clear, though, that Alpha Hale was very intelligent, and Derek was her son. He was probably intelligent as well, and he would have learned from his mother. So it was possible that he was setting Stiles up for something worse, in giving him his own bedroom and a night of privacy like this.

Since Derek didn't have any outlying housing specifically built for slaves, or a basement, Stiles had sort of been expecting to sleep at the foot of his owner's bed, with a blanket if he was lucky. The apartment was well heated, so it wouldn't have been any hardship, and it would have been more comfort than he was used to.

But this bed that was Stiles' and his alone.... It was intimidating and wrong, and Stiles just. He couldn't.

After he was sure that his owner was finished in the bathroom -- keeping his ear pressed to the door to listen for his quiet movements -- Stiles made his way into it in turn, to take a piss and brush his teeth. It was hard to get the packaging for the toothbrush Derek had specified as being his open with his shaking hands and chewed-down nails, but Stiles found a pair of scissors in a drawer to the side of the sink, and then he was able to free it and scrub the lingering tang of steak out of his mouth.

Not that the steak had tasted bad -- the opposite of that, in fact -- but it was associated in Stiles' mind with having to sit at the table with his owner and an alpha, and that was still freaking him out, even though it was over with now.

Derek's bedroom door remained closed as Stiles emerged, shutting off the light behind himself. He skittered back to the room that was assigned as his, and stood there helplessly. The bed was mocking him, and he glared at it, wondering who else had slept in it. He still didn't know about any previous personal slaves Derek might have had.

Finally, standing in the middle of the room made Stiles' legs tired. Between the pizza and the steak dinner he had eaten more today than normal, but he still felt weak and shaky.

He switched off the overhead light. This room, like the bathroom, had no windows. Unlike the bathroom there was no skylight, but there was a small nightlight plugged into a socket near the bed. Stiles stared at it while his eyes adjusted to the dimmer lighting. It was in the shape of a crescent moon, glowing pale in the shadows. He felt his lips curl unwilled, and he wasn't sure if he was smiling or snarling.

Stiles was sleepy, it was true, but mostly he was tired. He was tired of being on alert, tired of holding himself ready for an attack at any moment. He needed to do something, and laying down on the bed was not going to happen. He did move over to the bed, though.

There was a plump navy comforter atop the twin mattress, a little oversized so that it hung down to puddle on the floor to either side of the bed. Stiles grabbed this comforter and dragged it to the corner of the room with him. Once there, he wrapped it around his body and wedged himself into the space between the dresser and the wall, curling his knees up to his chest, letting the comforter fall over his head and face like a hood, though he retained a little open space in order to keep an eye on the door.

It was a complete illusion, but for the first time in longer than he could remember, Stiles felt safe. There would be nothing to stop Derek from coming into his room and dragging him out of his hiding spot, but it was silent on the other side of the closed door and Stiles thought that he just might have the night to himself, as Derek had promised.

Stiles rested his head against the side of the dresser, letting his eyelids droop. He was tired... but he couldn't fall asleep. It wasn't the way he'd positioned himself. This was one of the most cozy spots he'd been in for a while, and the comforter was impossibly fluffy around his body. Not as much so as the eiderdown comforter on Derek's bed, but that was only as it should be. Derek was a wolf. Stiles was lucky when he got even a scrap of a sheet to cover himself with. This comforter was the height of luxury where a human slave was concerned.

He still couldn't sleep, though. His brain kept him awake. Reminding him how many things he'd fucked up earlier in the evening. Telling him all the ways Derek could hurt him. Giving him vivid pictures of what that Kate Argent slave had done to Derek... and for some reason that upset him more than imagining what Derek might do to him.

Stiles strained to remember what he'd heard about Derek Hale. He'd recognized the name instantly. He'd known that his owner's name was Derek, and once his alpha had been introduced as Talia Hale... well, it had taken Stiles about one second to put two and two together.

It had happened years ago, when Stiles had still been little. So it must have been when Derek had been about the same age Stiles was now, give or take a year.

Stiles remembered the whispers. He'd still been with his Dad, and their owner hadn't been as bad as the two that had come after....

Stiles had expected that his father would be happy to hear that a human slave had managed to capture a wolf, and certainly some of the other slaves in the household had felt that way, but his Dad had been grim and disapproving of those other humans.

"When one wolf suffers at the hand of a human slave," he'd explained to Stiles, who had barely been old enough to understand the complex concepts his father had been laying out, "Then all slaves are liable to suffer at the claws of the wolves."

That had made sense to Stiles, because he'd already become acquainted with the concept of transference, even if he didn't know that was what it was called.

"Also," his father had added, his lined face creasing even more, in a sad look that made Stiles want to hug him, "It was just a boy who was taken. Derek Hale isn't even an adult yet, Stiles, and he hadn't done anything wrong. For this woman to torture him for no real reason, that's not right. We should never be pleased by the suffering of others."

Stiles knew that. He'd internalized it. Before her death, his mother had taught him over and over that all life held value, and that anyone who didn't think so was weak; even the wolves.

Of course, his father had always added, the lives of those who hurt and murdered for sport held one hell of a lot less value than those who did good and were generous. His wife couldn't argue with that, though she'd given him a disapproving look. Not because of what he'd said, but because Stiles had only been about five at the time.

Stiles missed his parents, he thought, his throat aching. His mother had died and Stiles had seen it happen, so he knew that she was gone forever. But he'd been sold away from the household his father belonged to, and so he liked to think that his dad was still out there, doing his duties, thinking of Stiles and loving him and missing him....

Great, now his eyes were watering and his throat had a huge lump. Stiles sniffed, wiping his cheeks on his comforter and dragged his mind away from the past and back to his present. He loved and missed his father and he hoped that the man was doing well. Their owner had been decent for a wolf.... Deucalion had been aloof and occasionally rage-filled, but while he was quick enough to dole out punishments, he'd never beaten any of the slaves he owned.

Sometimes Stiles missed Deucalion, as much as he could miss a wolf. He'd been attractive, as all wolves were, in a craggy way that appealed to Stiles even when he'd been a child, and he'd had a really gorgeous voice with an exotic accent that had been at odds with his rough-hewn face. But his emissary had taken a dislike to Stiles ever since he'd accidentally spilled mop water on her expensive shoes, so when a new batch of slaves came in, Stiles had been one of the ones to be sold off to make room.

Things had only gone downhill for him from there.

Stiles reached up, freeing a hand from the comforter and touching the smooth scar over his eye. He wanted to forget about his other two owners, wanted to forget the years between the last time he'd gotten to hug his dad and... well, now.

He wished that he could trust Alpha Hale at her word, but the wolf who'd been the nicest to him in his life had been dismissive and then sold him without a moment of hesitation, even though Stiles had still been prepubescent and children under the age of thirteen weren't supposed to be taken away from their parents.

Well, that was just an "understanding", one of the few traditions connected with the slavery of humans that worked to the humans' benefit. It hadn't broken any laws or anything for Deucalion to sell Stiles the way he'd done. It had just been traumatizing for Stiles and his father, that was all, and thrown Stiles out into a world he wasn't ready or equipped to deal with.

Stiles sighed deeply, his chest constrained by his drawn-up knees, and huddled into himself more tightly.

What was done was done, but he did wish that he could see his dad....

Instead of dwelling on his past, though, Stiles ought to be looking toward his future.

It certainly seemed as though he was going to survive his first night here, which he hadn't been sure of earlier. Stiles was still a little surprised that he was undamaged, had his own bedroom, and that Derek hadn't demanded anything from him.... But he had to be setting Stiles up, making things that much worse when he inevitably turned on his sorry messed-up excuse for human slave....

Stiles yawned, exhausted, but his brain not stopping, rendering him painfully unable to sleep.

Maybe it was giving himself too much credit, again, to think that he mattered so much to Derek. Maybe all of this was legitimate. Maybe the only thing Stiles had to worry about was Derek losing control when Stiles inevitably screwed up and brought rightful punishment down on his own head....

And maybe he was thinking midnight crazy thoughts, Stiles continued bitterly. Because to trust a wolf was madness. It was one sure way to get oneself dead, and Stiles didn't want to die.

Sleep still eluded him, but exhaustion was catching up with his brain, and Stiles' thoughts were increasingly foggy and disjointed as he started trying to figure out ways he could get out of this situation.

The vendor who had sold him to Derek had said he was a "runner" and that wasn't wrong, but it hadn't been right either. Stiles knew how dumb it was for a slave to try to escape. There had to be documentation for all humans, and there was no safe place for an owner-less slave to hide. Not when wolves could smell who every single individual human belonged to.

But Stiles' last owner had been literally on the verge of killing him and that was why Stiles had "run". He'd only been trying to save his own skin. He was just lucky he'd ended up with an disreputable vendor instead of being sent back to Ennis. If Ennis hadn't killed five slaves the same day Stiles had slipped out of his house and attempted to escape, things might have gone differently.

As it was, Ennis had been under investigation and since he was still underage, Stiles had been shipped off to Juvvie. There were more than a few corrupt individuals there -- surprise, surprise -- and Stiles was evidently worth more in cash than he was as another body in the overcrowded living spaces. So after a couple of miserable weeks, he'd been sent away to parade through a series of different vendors who were all varying levels of awful, until he'd wound up on display in the warehouse where Derek Hale had found him....

Well, he wasn't dead. And his fantasies of leaving this apartment and finding his father were just that; fantasies. That was okay. His semi-delirious, dozing daydreaming was as close to sleep as he was going to get tonight, and the thought of being able to embrace his dad again was something that made him smile.

Alone, in the bedroom that was evidently his, Stiles felt momentarily safe enough to smile. Even though he knew that this little bubble was ephemeral and would pop come morning.

Morning!

Stiles stiffened where he was coiled in his corner, after hours and hours of thoughts and memories and anxiety and illusions of security, feeling his body ache in protest. He hadn't found out from Derek when he was supposed to have breakfast and coffee ready!

Stiles bit his lower lip hard enough to sting, crawling out of his corner and trying to shake off the fog of weariness that was hazing his head. There was an electric clock on top of the dresser and if it had the correct time, it was a little after six o'clock right now.

He wondered if Derek had a job. He wondered what time he usually rose. Stiles had never been a personal slave before, but he knew what was required of them. And since there were no other slaves in this apartment to share their knowledge of their owner with Stiles, Derek should have supplied Stiles with a sheet of paper detailing his schedule and the requirements of Stiles' services.

Well, not all owners bothered with that. Kali -- who had been Stiles' second owner and the one who had given him the majority of his scars, including the one over his eye -- had taken a sadistic pleasure in forcing Stiles to stumble blindly through his duties and then punishing him every time he'd failed to get it right. It hadn't mattered to her that he was a small boy trying to get over the pain of being wrenched away from his one living parent; hell, that had probably made it even better where she was concerned.

Stiles stood, blinking blearily, once more undecided in the center of his bedroom.

He could go and start the coffee and food now.... But what if Derek wanted to sleep in until eleven or something? He'd be angry at Stiles for waking him, angry at him for the waste of coffee and food. And would he want something specific for breakfast? Stiles had no idea what--

Stiles startled as a knock came at the door, not loud but breaking him free of his spiraling, panicked thoughts. He stared blankly for a moment, not processing what was going on. Since when did wolves knock?

But since when was he given his own room? Granted, he'd never been a personal slave before, but this was well beyond the generosity of any wolf Stiles had ever been owned by before.

Realizing with another start that he should not keep Derek waiting, Stiles nearly tripped over his own feet getting over to open the door.

"Good morning," Derek greeted, giving Stiles a sheepish, hesitant smile. He looked rumpled and tired, shadows under his eyes, and Stiles probably looked much the same. "I hope you don't mind me..." he mimed knocking, then continued, "But I could hear that you were awake...."

"Should I make coffee?" Stiles blurted out, perhaps ill advisedly. "Cook you breakfast? Is there anything else you want?"

He winced internally as soon as the words left his mouth, but it was too late to take them back. Besides, it wasn't as though he wasn't completely at Derek's mercy here, and it wasn't as though both of them didn't know it.

"Um." Derek looked taken aback by this flood of questions. His gaze slid around Stiles and fixated on the comforter that was still on the floor, over by the dresser, where Stiles had spent the night.

"Sorry," Stiles cringed, not sure whether he meant for speaking out of place, for not knowing whether he should make coffee or not, or for not sleeping on the bed he'd been given. Hell, it was probably best to apologize for all of that and everything else; especially the mess he'd made of last night, both before and during dinner.

Derek raised a hand and Stiles jolted back, but he'd only been moving to run his fingers through his messy hair. Derek froze, hand on his head, eyes wide and mouth open to expose white teeth that were more adorable-looking than fangy. Stiles noticed belatedly that Derek had no shirt on. His chest was broad and perfectly muscled, his torso brushed in dark fuzz that covered his pecs and trailed down from his navel vanish under the waistband of his pajama bottoms.

With one arm raised, bicep bulging, he looked like a work of art. But he was frowning at Stiles, and that expression never bode well.

However, when he spoke all he said was, "Come on into the kitchen." His voice was mild and not as deep as Stiles always half expected it to be.

Stiles padded after Derek as he led the way, trying to acclimate himself to his new home, wondering what his new routine was going to be.

"I'll set up the coffee," Derek said, scratching at his scalp through his thick, dark hair and turning bright eyes on Stiles. "Go ahead and sit at the table."

Stiles wasn't happy about it, but he had a direct order and there was no way he was going to disobey it.

"Is there..." he hesitated to ask any questions, but he had to know, "Is there any written schedule? I need to know when to be up, when to make your coffee, when to have food ready...."

Derek gave him a blank look, then grimaced. "Sorry," he said, and there he went, apologizing to his own slave again. "I've been living on my own so long, I didn't even think of things like that."

He spooned coffee beans into the grinder and then informed Stiles, "Normally I have the coffeemaker set up to automatically come on in the morning, but I forgot last night."

Stiles nodded, his hands twisting in his lap. He would take over the task of setting up the coffee the night before, he assumed, and he tried to focus and watch the way Derek did it, though it was hard when his owner's back was turned to him. Also, his eyes kept getting blurry; he really should have tried harder to get some sleep the night before, even though it had seemed so impossible at the time.

"I get up around six-thirty, except on weekends," Derek continued, after grinding the beans with a loud roar. He dumped them into the filter, then began measuring out the water. "Work out, then have my coffee and some food. Then I get ready to head for my job."

"You--"

Stiles clapped a hand over his own mouth, but not in time. He kind of expected Derek to tear into him for that, but he just shot Stiles a wry look, his mouth quirked.

"I work," he informed Stiles evenly. "I know some people think that the Hale family is rich enough that they don't need to have jobs, but Mom always insisted we earn our own way."

As the coffeemaker sputtered into life, Derek padded over, barefoot, and sat at the table as well, though on the side opposite Stiles.

"I'll be honest," he said, hands folded before him in a move that looked so awkward that he must be doing it in order to look unthreatening. "I work for my uncle. And my mom picked out my apartment. But..." he shrugged. "I'm trying. I'm trying to live my own life the best I can."

Derek sounded so forlorn and lost that Stiles forgot himself and felt sad for him for several long moments. He recalled his emotions from the night before, borderline delirious or not, and he felt like that tiny boy again, listening to his dad tell him that this Derek Hale that they'd never met and only heard of hadn't deserved to be held prisoner and tortured.

If he set aside his fear that Derek would at any moment jump him and give him more scars, Stiles could look objectively at his new owner and see that he did seem to be trying.....

Derek had seemed more angry, more feral, more forceful when he had chosen Stiles in the warehouse, and during the car ride on the way to his apartment. Since then, he'd been less certain, more vulnerable than any wolf Stiles had ever met.

It gave Stiles conflicting feelings, but he just didn't dare to let his guard down. If he did, then it would just hurt that much more when Derek inevitably turned on him.

"Anyway." Derek shook his head, squeezing one hand and then the other, skin going white under the dark hair. He seemed almost... nervous. Though what he had to be nervous about was beyond Stiles. "I work eight to four unless I'm flexing my hours. But you don't need to worry about that right now, because Peter gave me two weeks off."

Stiles chewed on his lower lip, trying to fix this schedule in his mind. It stressed him out to hear that Derek would be here all day for two whole weeks, but it might be for the best, because the sooner Derek's instincts recognized Stiles as belonging here, the safer Stiles would be, and the best way for that happen -- unfortunately -- was for them to spend time together.

Just as the coffeemaker stuttered to a stop, the entire kitchen filled with the rich, fragrant scent, the doorbell rang.

Stiles stiffened, because a visitor this early couldn't possibly be a good thing, but Derek just smiled a little and informed him, "That'll be the clothes Mom ordered for you. I let her know I was up and she had them sent over right away."

That wasn't the best news Stiles had ever heard, the idea of it causing him immediate stress. But on the other hand, he was swimming in Derek's clothes, and the potential for clothing that fit him better was awfully tempting....

Besides, as Alpha Hale had pointed out the night before, he couldn't shame the pack. He had to be seen in clothing that displayed that fact that she could provide for those under her care.

Stiles trailed after Derek as he left the kitchen. He really wanted some coffee, but he didn't dare to take any without permission, and even if it was allowed, he couldn't serve himself without Derek having his coffee first.

Of course, coffee might be a mistake as far as Stiles was concerned. It seemed to act as a stimulant for most humans, but it had always had the opposite effect on Stiles, calming him down and making him sleepy. Considering he'd only dozed a little the night before, being sedated might render him completely useless... but on the other hand, it might still the little rushes of panic he kept feeling, especially when he thought about the fact that he was going to see a doctor today.

Also, he'd always had coffee in the morning, like a ritual, no matter who his owner was, and it would feel weird not to have any today.

By the time he made his way into the living room Derek had already closed the door behind the delivery person and there was a truly humongous box on the coffee table. Stiles eyed it in alarm, but Derek didn't seem fazed.

Stiles watched anxiously as Derek brought out the claws and opened the box, revealing its contents.

"Shoes.... Jeans.... Shirts...." Derek delved in, shoving things around. "Ah, pajamas, good. And I hope you're okay with boxers."

Stiles was about to hyperventilate. Every other owner he'd belonged to had gotten him two uniforms and expected him to make sure they stayed clean. He hadn't ever worn the same sorts of things that wolves did!

"These should fit okay," Derek said, plucking some items out of the tightly packed box and turning toward Stiles. "Mom's got a really good eye for-- Are you okay?!"

Stiles nodded, even though he really wasn't. When Alpha Hale had said she'd make sure he got some clothes, he hadn't been expecting... this. And she'd suggested that Derek take Stiles out to pick some out for himself?! More clothes? How? How was the Hale pack real?

"Hey." Derek had approached him and was looking at Stiles with a soft expression. Stiles would have taken it as false and put-on, but he read the exhaustion around the edges of Derek's face and somehow he thought that the emotion he was expressing was genuine.

"Just go and put these on," Derek instructed, shoving the bundle in his hands at Stiles. He took it automatically, and Derek gave him an encouraging smile. "Then come into the kitchen for some coffee. And then you can cook us both breakfast if you want."

Feeling a bit as though he was being humored, but also feeling much better for having a clear list of instructions, Stiles retreated to his bedroom to get dressed. Derek had already seen him bare-ass naked, of course, but Stiles appreciated that he hadn't made Stiles get changed right there in the living room.

The clothes fit pretty well. They were a little large; probably Alpha Hale expected him to grow into them. Certainly if he was eating meals with his owner, he would gain back the weight he'd lost while Ennis had owned him, and then when he'd been shunted from vendor to vendor.

Derek had chosen a pair of black boxers, a pair of neat blue jeans with a fabric belt -- which was unfortunately necessary right now -- and a long-sleeved shirt in a warm blue cotton material that clung to Stiles' torso and arms, soft and smooth.

Stiles still had on the red and white striped socks, and Derek hadn't handed him any shoes, so he made his way back into the kitchen once he was done.

Derek smiled when he saw Stiles, his eyes crinkling, and he looked stupidly adorable, even with his stubble and the sharp flash of a canine, not to mention his furry chest and low-slung pajama bottoms. Make that stupidly adorable and incredibly sexy.

"Great," he declared, then waved a hand at the coffeemaker. "You know where the mugs are. If you want cream it's in the fridge, and the sugar is in the container next to the breadbox. The one labeled sugar."

Stiles chewed on his lower lip and nodded. It felt kind of strange to be in clothes that weren't Derek's now, even though it had been less than twenty-four hours since Derek had brought him home.

Derek's cheerful expression went a little mournful, presumably due to Stiles' lack of response to his sally of mild humor, but he just nodded in return, then went to sit down at the table again, cradling his own mug in one strong hand, his phone in the other, thumb dancing over the screen.

He seemed distracted, and so Stiles felt less awkward than he might otherwise have as he poured himself some coffee, choosing a mug that was plain and white, completely unstained, in an effort to avoid using something that might be a favorite.

Of course, it occurred to him belatedly that he might wind up staining it with his coffee, but by then he'd brought the rim to his lips and the scent was curling around his nose and he realized this was some expensive coffee, not the cheap stuff, and he was torn between delight and horror. He couldn't believe Derek was sharing this with him, but he was very, very glad to have a chance to taste it.

Stiles remained standing near the counter next to the coffeemaker, and after a few deeply satisfying sips, he put his mug down.

"Breakfast?" he prompted, even though he hated interrupting whatever it was Derek was doing. "Or is it still too early?"

"No, it's fine," Derek said, looking up at him. His hair was flat on his forehead and his eyelids were heavy. "I think I'll skip working out today. I didn't get much sleep last night."

Stiles wanted to ask if wolves even needed to exercise, but he didn't let himself. It was too large a liberty, daring to strike up a conversation with an owner. It was bad enough he had interrupted him in what he was doing to ask about breakfast.

"Is...." Stiles picked up his coffee, as much because it tasted amazing as for something to do with his hands. "Is there anything in particular you'd like me to make?"

Derek perked up a little, though he still looked tired. "Can you make omelets?" he asked.

"I can," Stiles confirmed. In fact, that was one of the first things he'd ever learned to cook.

"I miss omelets," Derek said in a dreamy tone of voice, his gaze going distant. "Every time I try to make them I just end up with scrambled eggs."

Stiles turned away and bit his lip, swallowing a small huff of amusement. He hadn't felt like laughing in years, but something about Derek's delivery had triggered something in him that he hadn't even known still existed. It was like a catch in his chest, but a good one rather than a bad one.

Searching for a distraction, and telling himself he needed to get on with serving his new owner, Stiles went and pulled a nearly full carton of eggs out of the fridge, then stood there with it in one hand, surveying the rest of the fridge's contents, contemplating.

"Ham? Peppers? Cheese?"

"Yes, please," Derek said meekly. "There's some cheddar already shredded, in the dairy drawer. Do you want any help dicing the ham or peppers?"

Stiles shook his head. "I'm making breakfast," he declared as firmly as he was able when he was talking to a wolf who owned him.

"All right," Derek said agreeably enough, getting up and pouring more coffee. "I'm going to take that box of clothes into your room, but I'll just set it on the floor by the dresser, okay? That way you can put everything away where you want."

Stiles bit his lip, and focused on his meal prep. He wasn't ashamed to say that he was intimidated by the huge amounts of clothing Alpha Hale had sent for him. It just didn't feel right.

The jeans he had on hugged his ass and thighs more closely than he was used to, and while he really liked the shirt, he almost wished he was back in Derek's oversized shirt. For some reason. He didn't know why.

He cooked up a couple of large omelets, fluffy and golden -- which was hard to do when they were so full of meat, cheese, and vegetables, an accomplishment he was rightfully proud of -- and put them both on the same plate. By the time this was completed, Derek had returned to the kitchen and was drinking more coffee, his eyes fixed on every move that Stiles was making.

"Cut one of those in half," he instructed, when Stiles would have moved to bring the plate over to him. "Unless you intend to cook one for yourself."

Stiles winced, but he was hungry, his stomach growling. He had no intention of cooking another omelet, and he knew Derek would get pissed if he suggested he just fry a single egg and have it with toast.

He cut off considerably less than half, but it was all he knew he'd be able to manage. After all, Alpha Hale had said last night that his stomach was sure to have shrunk.

Derek was mollified by the effort, and the delight he expressed as he ate the omelet was both gratifying and slightly embarrassing. It was pretty good, though, Stiles had to admit. He'd never eaten one before, only cooked them, and it was pleasant to know that he'd been doing it right all this time.

Once they were done eating, Stiles took the empty plates over to the sink to wash them.

"Thank you," Derek said. "I'll treat you to lunch, okay? But not pizza."

Stiles hummed noncommittally, because it still freaked him out to be thanked for doing something that was his duty. Also, the idea of being rewarded for cooking one meal by not having to cook another meal was... foreign to him. Like so many things were here in Derek's apartment.

While Stiles washed the plates and utensils, Derek continued to watch his every move, continued to stare at Stiles... no, not at Stiles. He was staring at the clothing Stiles had on.

Stiles shifted and watched as Derek's nostrils flared. Stiles understood what was going on; he had spent the night in a room that Derek had surely never visited, wrapped in a comforter that he'd probably not even touched, and now he was wearing brand new clothing.

"Do you want to piss on me again?"

Derek's eyes shot up to meet his, dark and filled with smoldering intensity. It flooded Stiles with something... not fear, but some powerful emotion. He wasn't sure what it was. It was new but it didn't make him uncomfortable the way new feelings usually did.

"I...." Derek shifted, his thick thighs flexing underneath the thin material of his pajama bottoms. He looked conflicted.

Stiles made bad decisions a lot. Obeying his instincts got him in trouble more often than not. And he was still completely lost as to what his place was here in Derek's home, in his position as Derek's personal slave. But sometimes he just knew when something was the right thing to do.

"Come on," he said, drying his hands on a dishcloth and beckoning as he moved to exit the kitchen.

It felt wrong to be giving a wolf an order, but Derek didn't seem to recognize how wrong it was, because he didn't get angry. His expression was still hungry and more wakeful than he had looked so far this morning as he rose to his feet and padded after Stiles.

There was a heavy warmth at the base of Stiles' stomach as he marched them both to the bathroom. It wasn't anxiety. He couldn't put a name to it, but he thought it might not be completely unpleasant.

Derek paused in the doorway of the bathroom, giving Stiles another super-intense stare.

"Get undressed and get in the shower this time," he directed, then he vanished, stalking down the hall toward his bedroom. It felt right that he had taken charge again, and Stiles felt the tension that had coiled between his shoulderblades when he'd started giving Derek direction unravel.

He stripped off the new clothing as ordered, folding them carefully and setting them on the counter next to the sink. He might be putting them back on afterward, but he strongly suspected....

He was right, he saw, as Derek came back into the bathroom with a shirt and a pair of his own boxers clutched in one hand.

"We have hours before lunch," he said, as though he owed Stiles anything like an explanation, putting the clothes he was carrying on the counter, atop Stiles' new outfit. He didn't seem to care that Stiles hadn't yet gotten in the shower stall, just kept talking. "Neither of us got any sleep last night. So after this, we should go to my room and lay down."

His thick brows twisted and he looked uncertain.

"Unless you absolutely don't want to," he finished, then he hooked his thumbs in the waistband of his pajama bottoms, sliding them down his sharply delineated hipbones and off, dumping them atop the pile of clothing that was rising on the counter.

Stiles stepped into the shower without answering, because he didn't know how to answer.

"I know that you take anything I say as an order," Derek said, pacing deliberately toward the shower stall in a way that raised the fine hairs all over Stiles' body, though that might be as much the chill of standing naked on cold ceramic as it was the large, powerful predator approaching him. "But I really mean it; if you feel strongly that you won't be able to sleep in my bed, just tell me. What we're doing now," he blushed and looked strangely young, "Should be enough."

Stiles was still bemused by the way his owner seemed to react to this simple act of marking him. But he could see the value in sharing a bed again. He'd... actually gotten more sleep yesterday afternoon, dozing off on Derek's bed, in his arms, than he'd done the entire night in the nominal safety of his own room.

It might be bizarre and completely incomprehensible, but he couldn't deny to himself that it had happened.

"A nap sounds good," he got out, bracing himself on the built-in seat in the stall as he knelt, because three decent meals didn't make up for almost two years of being underfed, and he was maybe a little dizzy from lack of sleep as well.

He couldn't bring himself to -- what? -- give his owner permission to do what he wanted? But he could agree to it, and let Derek make the moves. It was still strange to him, being treated like an individual with a mind of his own rather than as a thing, as a possession.

Derek owned him, but he saw Stiles as a person, not as a mere accessory to his life. Stiles couldn't deal with a lot of the things he'd heard from Alpha Hale the night before, but that he could process and believe.

It wouldn't make him complacent, but he felt like acknowledging it gave him a better insight into how Derek's brain worked and what Derek was going to be expecting of his personal slave.

Derek stepped into the shower stall with Stiles, shutting the frosted glass door behind him, and then resting one hand momentarily on the crown of Stiles' head. Since Stiles was still facing the seat, Derek was at his back, and yet it didn't terrify him the way it usually did when there was a wolf behind him. Stiles blinked, pondering this unnatural response.

The feeling of Derek's piss was almost familiar by this point, this time starting at his nape instead of lower, on his shoulderblades. It was hot and pungent, but again it smelled like coffee, and again that made Stiles almost smile. Well, that was what Derek had just been drinking, and wolf bodies metabolized things faster than human bodies did.

He almost caught himself wondering what it might smell like if Derek hadn't been drinking large amounts of coffee beforehand, but he really shouldn't be that invested in that thought. Besides, he was probably going to be finding out, eventually.

Stiles remained kneeling, just experiencing the heat and wetness of Derek's urine as it seared over his shoulders, dripping down his chest and back at once, then tracked down his spine. It cooled as it went, a little ticklish, but mostly it felt like safety to Stiles, and so he didn't mind.

This time Derek finished much more quickly and didn't instruct Stiles to turn toward him. What he did do was turn on the water, almost too hot, then raise Stiles to his feet.

It was an immensely weird experience, being bathed by a wolf, but Stiles managed to convince his instincts that he was doing what his owner wanted. Derek wasn't serving Stiles; Stiles was serving Derek by letting him do whatever he wanted with his body.

He didn't wash Stiles' hair, which made sense considering that Stiles had shampooed it yesterday, but he did run soapy hands over his torso and arms. Since Stiles couldn't imagine a wolf on his knees, he was just as relieved that Derek didn't bother with his legs, instead moving him under the cascade of hot water that pinked up the entire surface of his skin to rinse off the suds, then shutting it off.

Once they were out of the shower Derek wrapped Stiles up in a fluffy white towel, patting him carefully dry before using the same towel to wipe his own much more impressive body free of residual moisture. He pulled his pajama pants back on, then directed Stiles toward the clothes he'd left on the counter. His clothes, not Stiles' new outfit.

Stiles tugged up the boxers; they were loose but at least not about to slide off his hips, and then pulled the shirt over his head. This one was definitely not clean, it smelled strongly of Derek, but that wasn't gross or anything. And if it helped, Stiles was all for that.

It had been kind of nice, briefly, to wear clothing that was his alone and that fit and was clean. But Stiles was more comfortable in whatever made his owner feel comfortable. He wanted to belong here, needed to not ping Derek's predatory instincts as an interloper.

Derek didn't offer him any pants, nor did he put on a shirt himself, and that was okay. It kind of had to be okay, because it was obviously what was happening.

Stiles didn't even really mind when Derek led him back into his own bedroom, throwing back the eiderdown comforter and climbing up onto the mattress.

Obediently, he joined his owner, blinking sleepily as Derek pulled the covers back over them both and tucked him in close, the way they'd been curled together the day before. He was surrounded by heat and powerful arms and the pungent scent of Derek; both ground into the sheets and coming fresh and clean off of the wolf's body. It... wasn't unpleasant. Stiles didn't even go on alert when Derek nosed at the back of his neck with a definite air of satisfaction.

The coffee was what was making him drowsy, Stiles thought. Combined with the hot shower he'd just had, and the warmth of Derek's torso pressed against his own, the way the comforter seemed to embrace and envelop his entire body.

Stiles told himself that the sense of safety he was feeling had to do with nothing other than the knowledge that the more he smelled of Derek, the safer he would be.

And he actually believed this.

Because what other reason could there be for feeling safe within the arms of a wolf?

***

Alan Deaton had been the Emissary for the Hale pack even longer than he had been a doctor, and he'd been looking after all of its members, werewolf and human alike, for all those years.

And that was why he had never encountered a slave in the condition that young Derek's new personal slave was in. Even though he'd known that such abuse and neglect happened in other packs, the Hale pack had always bought from reputable sellers before.

Despite being forewarned by Talia Hale, Alan still found himself a bit taken aback by his first sight of Stiles. It was more his physical attitude than it was his skinniness or the scar over his left eye, though that was certainly -- no pun intended at all -- eye-catching.

Alan felt an instant and deep sense sympathy for the human boy but he was careful to keep it off his face, sensing instinctively that it would be ill received.

"So. Stiles. Is there anything you can tell me about your own medical history?" he asked quietly, after Derek had brought the boy into his office and had him seat himself in the chair before Alan's desk. He perched on the edge, looking anxious and ready to run, and Alan did his best to keep his demeanor calm, steady, and professional. Even more so than usual, that was. "The papers that came with you didn't include any."

Stiles, as the boy had named himself, shifted minutely, staring at him with big brown eyes. Alan kept his gaze off the sight of that scar bisecting his eyebrow and marring the upper plane of one sharp cheekbone, but he couldn't help wondering how Stiles had gotten it.

Or, far more likely, been given it.

"I...." Stiles paused, glancing over toward Derek, who was sitting next to him in the other office chair, not meeting his new owner's eyes but clearly seeking guidance from him nonetheless.

"Whatever it is, just tell Deaton," Derek urged before Alan could say anything similarly encouraging. "I want him to be able to help you. I want you to be as healthy as possible."

Stiles blinked, meeting Derek's eyes now, then nodded. He turned back toward Alan but kept his gaze turned downward.

"Once, when I was little," he said, his voice hoarse and so quiet Alan had to strain to hear him, "A human doctor saw me. He said I have... ADHD?" He glanced up, amber flashing in the deep, vivid brown of his eyes, and bit his lower lip. "I don't know what that is, but it makes it hard for me to focus, I think."

"That is what it does," Alan agreed kindly, folding his hands before him. He could understand why Stiles had wanted to hide that, not wanting to show himself as a defective human in front of Derek, but he needn't worry. Things like that didn't matter one bit to the Hale pack, and Derek was only frowning at Stiles in concern.

Stiles, of course, didn't realize where the expression was springing from, and he curled more miserably into himself.

"And since then?" Alan prompted gently. He'd give Stiles some tests and see if he might need to be medicated. If he had ADHD that would certainly explain some of the things Derek had told him about the boy in the email he'd sent the night before.

Stiles' brows knit and his hands were wringing together in his lap. "That's the only time I've ever seen a doctor," he admitted.

Alan glanced sharply at Derek as he caught movement out the corner of his eye, and he gave him a stern look. Whatever Derek had been about to say died on his lips and he sank back into his chair, but he didn't seem happy about it. Well, Alan wasn't feeling very happy about any of this either.

"What about the scar over your eye?" he asked, raising a hand and pointing at his own face. "Didn't that require medical attention?"

Stiles shrugged bony shoulders, hunching into himself. Maybe he didn't like the reminder. Maybe he sensed that he was about to give a less than satisfactory answer.

"I was... unconscious for most of it," he mumbled, speaking into his chest, fidgeting with the sleeves of the oversized shirt he was wearing. It was clearly one of Derek's, though the jeans and shoes he had on fit well enough that they must have been chosen for him specifically.

"So you don't remember seeing a doctor for it at any time?" Alan asked, brows rising, wondering if it had even been a doctor who had taken care of Stiles' wound after whatever had cause it had happened.

Stiles shook his head. "I got cut, I healed," he said simply. "I was lucky."

Derek exchanged a horrified look with Alan, but neither of them stated how awful that was. It shouldn't have needed saying, and if they had said it, Alan was pretty sure Stiles wouldn't understand.

"So you never had a follow-up visit?" Alan asked. That would explain why there had been no records with Stiles' paperwork. Though according to Talia, the papers that Peter had brought her had been lacking in many other ways as well.

"What's a follow-up?" Stiles asked, clearly confused. Alan was appalled on this boy's behalf, but he did his best to hide it because it wouldn't do any good to express his disgust at the neglect Stiles had suffered up until now. Stiles would only interpret the negative emotions as being aimed at himself.

"It's when you have a medical condition that requires treatment," Alan explained calmly, "After you've been given that treatment, a follow-up is when you return to the doctor so that he or she can make sure everything is going well."

"Oh." Stiles fidgeted some more, glancing from Alan to Derek before turning his attention back to his hands. "No, I never needed that."

Alan was generally a calm, collected individual, but he very narrowly restrained a snort at this so completely misguided declaration. It was true that the wound had healed neatly, with no tearing or puckering, just a smooth white line with a silvery thread running through its center, but there was no way that Stiles hadn't needed additional medical attention, even if he hadn't gotten it.

Derek's jaw was twitching, he had his teeth so tightly clamped together, but he seemed to be doing his best to remain silent and not upset Stiles more than he was already rendered by being in a strange situation without any idea of what was expected of him.

"All right," Alan said, not agreeing with Stiles, but it was pointless to hash the matter out now, so long after the fact. "Well, if there's no history to go over with you, then we should proceed with the physical examination."

Stiles immediately looked nervous and Derek went on the alert in response, and Alan barely restrained a heavy sigh.

He could understand and empathize with Derek's feelings; after all, Alan had had to see Derek a lot more after what had happened with Kate than either of them would have wanted if given a choice. But Derek's powerful emotions were only going to feed into Stiles' anxiety in a self-defeating loop, and that wasn't going to work out well for any of the three of them.

He rose. "Stiles, if you would come with me into the exam room. Derek, you can stay here in my office or go out into the waiting room where there are books and magazines. There's also a tablet you can borrow at the desk if you'd rather to browse the internet."

Derek's heavy brows lowered, just as Alan had expected them to do. "But--"

"If you don't wish to wait alone," Alan overrode him, his own thinner brows raised, "I can call your alpha to keep you company."

Derek stared at him incredulously for a moment, then deflated, clearly reading the meaning in Alan's words. Not that he'd been at all subtle.

"I'll wait here" Derek growled, obviously grudgingly, but that was all Alan really needed.

"Come with me," he said, turning his full attention to Stiles, "Please."

Stiles shot an anxious glance at Derek, but when the young beta simply sulked and didn't tell his personal slave not to go, he rose and followed Alan obediently enough into his examination room.

Normally, Alan had one of the McCalls -- Melissa for humans or her son, Scott, for werewolves -- getting the initial information from his patients. But Stiles was a special case. Derek had only brought him home about a day ago and it was going to be hard enough on him when this was over and he would be able to scent Alan on Stiles' skin, gloves or no gloves.

Before he washed his hands and donned said gloves, though, Alan logged into the computer, bringing up the file for a new patient.

"Normally I'd step out while you remove your clothes and put on a gown," Alan said, turning and giving Stiles the most reassuring smile in his repertoire. "But I think in this case we'll make an exception, since Derek has entrusted you to my care."

Stiles shrugged, already reaching for the hem of his shirt. "An entire warehouse of wolves and humans saw me naked," he rasped in an even tone, and he obviously meant it when he added, "It doesn't matter to me."

"It should matter," Alan said, saddened but not appalled. He might be emissary to a pack with more scruples than most where slave ownership was concerned, but he wasn't unaware of how many humans were often treated by other packs. He was mentally and emotionally prepared to deal with Stiles; he just didn't like the necessity.

Stiles paused in the act of removing his shirt to give Alan a deeply confused and slightly disapproving stare, but he didn't question his statement.

Alan got the sense that Stiles didn't question a lot of things. It was probably safer for him that way, or had been in the past.

He turned back to the computer, keying in the spotty information he had from Stiles' paperwork. Just his date of birth, full name, and the name he called himself by. Alan left Stiles' height and weight information blank, in order to fill them in himself, as it was woefully out of date. The boy had clearly gained several inches and lost several pounds since whenever he'd been officially measured last.

It was good to know he hadn't been this undernourished for long, Alan thought with some relief. That meant that he might be quicker to regain the weight, and he would have suffered less long-term ill effects than if it had been like this all his short life.

Once Stiles was undressed -- he left on a pair of white and grey socks and Alan didn't ask him to remove them -- and in the soft pastel gown that Alan bought in bulk because with werewolves he couldn't wash and reuse clothing like human doctors could, Alan instructed him to step on the scale.

"Room for improvement," he noted, crossing back to the computer in type in the numbers. "But not as bad as I expected."

"Muscle weighs more than fat," Stiles offered, stepping off the scale and fidgeting.

Alan made a note, mental this time, of the movements rather than his words, since he already knew that and agreed. Most abused human slaves learned to be perfectly still, and when he had been in the office, in the presence of his owner, Derek, Stiles had indeed been mostly unmoving. But he hadn't been completely able to maintain this, and now that it was just him and Alan in this examination room, he was shifting, touching the gown, chewing on his lower lip....

All small movements that would attract a werewolf's attention and ping their predatory instincts if they were the sort to give in to their more primal nature, which fact Stiles was sure to know. But if the boy truly did suffer from ADHD, then any amount of knowing that he was annoying his owners wouldn't be enough to make him be still.

It must have made his obviously hard life even harder, Alan thought ruefully. And now that he was finally in a position to see a health practitioner who could do something about it, prescribe him medication to help, it was when he had an owner who wouldn't be triggered by his constant movements, one who would never lash out of hurt him in any way.

The irony was painful, and Alan grimaced slightly, but he didn't think Stiles noticed.

"All right, time to check your blood pressure," he said, gesturing to the large exam chair that took up most of the space in the room. "Please seat yourself."

Stiles sat obediently, paper crinkling underneath him. Once that was accomplished, Alan put on the gloves. The less skin-on-skin contact there was between himself and Stiles the better it would be where Derek and his feeling of possessiveness and protectiveness was concerned.

Stiles held still as Alan took his blood pressure, watching every move he made with keen eyes.

"I'm going to check your lungs now," Alan said, settling his stethoscope in place, using the smooth and soothing patter that he employed with the pack's children, making sure to explain each action before he moved to do it. "Sit up straight for me and take deep, steady breaths, please."

"I remember this," Stiles said, but then he clammed up and did as he'd been instructed, his spine stiff and his jaw tight. Alan wondered if they were good or bad memories. If someone had cared enough to get him in to see a doctor who specialized in humans, it was likely that he'd still been with one or both parents, or some other form of caretaker, but Alan wasn't going to take anything for granted where Stiles was concerned.

Hopefully he'd been allowed to have something approaching an actual childhood.... Of course, sixteen was still considered a child by some. But looking at the scars Stiles bore on his back and elsewhere on his body, Alan didn't think Stiles had been allowed to be a child for a very long time.

Stiles remained silent while Alan continued his exam, except to answer direct questions. He didn't seem upset or frightened, just distant.

"Do you have any pain anywhere?" Alan asked, once he'd completed the general exam and put any pertinent notes in Stiles' file on the computer. "Any recurring problems?"

He'd almost said "recurring complaints" but had caught himself in time. Because if there was one thing Stiles clearly didn't do, it was complain.

"I'm fine," came Stiles' rough reply, and to his credit he sounded like he believed it. But after a moment he bit his lower lip and gave Alan that sidelong glance that Alan was coming to be familiar with. "Sometimes...."

"Go on," Alan prompted, low pressure. He would need to finish up in here soon or Derek would probably come bursting in, no matter how much respect he had for his pack's Emissary. Talia had hinted at some bonding in effect between Derek and his new slave when she'd made the appointment with Alan, and so far he hadn't seen anything to dissuade him from this notion.

"Sometimes I get panic attacks," Stiles confessed, voice low and strained, his head bowed. "I don't think there's anything a doctor can do about that, though."

"Not directly," Alan said, bringing a stool over and seating himself informally before Stiles. "You'll find, though, that I am more than just a doctor."

Stiles looked up, nodding. "You're an emissary."

"I am. I'm also a druid, so my remedies aren't always limited to what modern medicine understands."

"Oh." Stiles lips curved in a round circle and he looked at Alan with far more interest than he had exhibited so far. "What does that mean?"

"Well, it means that I can potentially do something about the panic attacks," Alan hedged, though he honestly thought that as Stiles lived with Derek and came to realize that he wasn't constantly under threat of physical assault, those would likely cease on their own; at least for the most part. A nice placebo might not be amiss, though. "But it also means that I'm going to try to do something about your throat."

Stiles reached up without thinking and wrapped his bony fingers around his own neck, then frowned and pulled his hand away.

"Am I right in thinking that at some point you were held by it very tightly?" Alan hazarded. There was no external damage, but that didn't signify.

Stiles' expression clamped into something tight and shut down. "A few times," he rasped, and Alan was reasonably certain that he could fix that. "It's okay now, though," Stiles continued, shrugging spastically. "It doesn't hurt."

"Just because something doesn't hurt anymore, that doesn't mean that damage doesn't exist," Alan informed Stiles earnestly, and he wasn't just talking about the boy's vocal cords as he spoke the words.

Stiles didn't seem to pick up on that last fact, just shrugged and plucked at the hem of his gown a little more.

"All right, Stiles, "Alan forged onward. He'd done the physical exam, had seen for himself as much as he could, and there were no previous records to work from, so he was now going to have to ask some questions to complete the last of the information he needed from the newest member of the Hale pack.

Stiles glanced up, looking tired, worn down. Life with Derek would be good for him, Alan comforted himself, but he knew that it was going to be a practice of patience. He'd do what he could, and Derek would surely be doing his best, but the only thing that was really going to make any significant changes would be time. Time and positive experiences, rather than negative ones. It wouldn't undo all the harm this boy had taken in his sixteen years of life, but it would overwrite the nightmare that the majority of his existence had been so far.

"Tell me," Alan instructed, folding his hands on his knee and doing his best to look like someone Stiles would be comfortable confiding in. It came naturally to him, in general, but Stiles was skittish and deeply paranoid -- not without good reason -- and so Alan knew he was going to have to try harder than normal. "Are you sexually active?"

Stiles stared at him blankly for a long moment, then he shook his head slightly and replied, "No." Then, more firmly, "No, none of my owners ever wanted... that."

Alan relaxed a little, able to write that off of the possible ways Stiles had been abused. Not that being beaten and undernourished and kept in a constant state of fear had done wonders for him, but at least rape -- or even coerced sex -- wasn't a factor.

Of course, he could be lying. But Alan was adept at reading other people, werewolves and humans alike, and he was certain beyond any reasonable doubt that Stiles was telling him the truth.

"What about with other humans?" Alan prompted gently. After all, there was a reason the human race flourished despite their enslavement, and it had everything to do with sexual relations. He needed to know whether Stiles was going to need extra testing.

"No." Stiles shook his head. "Never." And it might have been hard to believe that he was still a virgin at sixteen, but considering the life he'd lived it became more probable. Lack of opportunity might factor in; if there hadn't bean any potential partners within the same household he served in, that would limit him. And somehow Alan doubted he got out much, met many other humans. Not to mention the probable lack of free time. It was only a guess, but from the looks of Stiles' thin but wiry limbs, he'd been working hard and often for years.

None of that stopped other slaves, of course. But add to this the fact that Stiles had clearly lived under the control of oppressive, violent werewolves and his lack of experience suddenly became far more likely. For some individuals danger kicked their reproductive urges into overdrive, but Stiles evidently hadn't had that reaction.

Besides, he still sounded and looked as though he was telling the truth. He didn't even look as though he cared, Alan thought. But, well, even for a sixteen year old male, sex took second place to survival.... Usually.

This might change as Stiles lived with Derek and came to feel safer and more comfortable. In fact, given that he was sixteen that was highly probable. Unless Stiles proved to be asexual, but Alan considered this to be unlikely.

He asked a few more questions, things that would have been on Stiles' medical transcripts if he'd had any, and then began to wrap it up. They'd only been in the exam room a little over half an hour and Alan had only done the bare minimum, but he knew Derek would only be getting more and more impatient, and he could do a more in-depth check-up later, once both Derek and Stiles were more settled.

"Any concerns you have for me?" he asked, phrasing it a different way in hopes of getting a different answer, and the result seemed promising, because Stiles paused, looking thoughtful.

"Um."

"Go ahead," Alan urged. "Whatever you have to tell me, I won't share it with anyone else, not even your owner or our alpha, unless I feel it's something that would put the pack or a member of the pack in danger."

Stiles gave him a suspicious look, as though he didn't believe the promise, but then he shifted and bit his lower lip.

"I... have trouble sleeping," he confessed, hands twining together in his lap like independent creatures. "Not just.... It's been like that for a long time."

"How long?" Alan asked carefully. When Stiles didn't answer right away, he prodded gently, "Stiles, I need to know, at least in general, so that I know how to treat you."

"Can you help?" Stiles asked, sounding young and... well, not hopeful, because he didn't do hopeful, but something desperate and aching in his tone.

"I'm sure I can," Alan replied firmly.

After another moment Stiles nodded, seeming to reach the decision to trust Alan with a little more of his carefully guarded personal information.

"It's mostly been since I was sold away from my dad," he confessed, which helped to answer one of Alan's less pressing questions; Stiles had spent at least some of his life with at least one parent. "Some times more than others. If I'm exhausted enough, I'll be able to sleep, but not every time."

Alan hummed, thinking that this was the most he'd heard Stiles speak at one go so far. "And how old were you when that happened? When you were sold, I mean."

"I think... ten?" Stiles hazarded. "It was about two years after Mom died and we stopped counting."

So Stiles had been sold away from his remaining parent well before he turned thirteen; somehow Alan was not surprised by this. He was pleased, though, to hear that the boy had been with both his parents for the first eight years of his life, and his father a little longer.

"I slept..." Stiles looked toward the door, his expression conflicted, "Better... yesterday and today... when I was in Derek's bed? I don't understand."

This would have been the perfect time to introduce several ideas and facts to Stiles, but Alan sensed that the boy wasn't actually ready to hear any of them, and so he restrained himself. This new information did strengthen the possibility that Talia had been correct about the bond, though, as far as Alan was concerned.

"Well," was all he said, "If it works, I don't see any reason to question it."

Stiles' mouth skewed to one side and he frowned, but he didn't argue.

"Why don't you go ahead and get dressed," Alan said, rising and wheeling the stool back over to the computer stand. "I'll step out while you do, and Derek and I will be waiting for you back in my office."

Stiles nodded and rose, moving to do as directed, slow and a little clumsy. That was the malnutrition, Alan thought, and they were going to work to get that dealt with first. There were other issues, including Stiles' damaged vocal cords, but Alan was a patient man and he wasn't in a hurry to get everything treated at once. Springing too many new things on Stiles right away would result in so much stress that it would be more detrimental to his health than helpful.

Derek was pacing in Alan's office, which he'd been honestly expecting despite his mention of the waiting room.

"He's healthy enough," he told Derek without preamble, knowing that this was one of the things that would be concerning Derek the most. The walls of the examination room were soundproofed, for obvious reasons, and so Derek hadn't been able to listen in. "Considering the mistreatment and neglect he's suffered, I'd say he's in surprisingly good shape, but don't mistake that to mean that he's doing well. We need to get him up to a healthy weight, and he can't do anything too strenuous in the meantime."

"Of course not," Derek answered indignantly, looking relieved and disgruntled at the same time, which was actually a little amusing but this was a serious subject they were discussing. "I didn't bring him home to make him do any actual work; I just couldn't leave him with that awful vendor!"

Alan bit back a small smile, filing away another piece of proof that Derek had in some way bonded with Stiles.

Bonding between members the two species was rare, but not completely unheard of, and so far Derek especially was exhibiting clear signs of this phenomenon. And even if Stiles was more reserved, the fact that he would admit to sleeping better in his owner's bed was surely a huge indication where the boy was concerned.

"I'll need to set up a future appointment for him as the Hale emissary rather than as the pack doctor," Deaton continued. "Since his papers didn't include former owners, I'll need to question him about them. But that can wait until he's in a more secure place mentally and physically."

Derek looked conflicted, but he could hardly protest.

"He hasn't been sexually abused," Alan continued, wincing internally as Derek's eyes went wide and his expression turned into something pained. He hated to bring the subject up after some of the things Kate had done to Derek, but it was something that Derek needed to know about his new personal slave. "He has, of course, been physically abused."

"Of course," Derek echoed blankly. Then his face shifted and he looked more ashamed than traumatized. "I've had to, you know... mark him...."

"That's to be expected," Alan replied evenly. He wasn't a werewolf and didn't have their senses, but he would have been more surprised than not to hear otherwise. Despite projecting an air of almost obnoxious self-confident in high school, Derek had always been somewhat reserved when it came to interpersonal interactions -- the middle child in a loud and occasionally rowdy but always loving family -- and his suffering at the hands of Kate Argent had only made this trait more prominent. Still, it would be almost inconceivable that a werewolf not mark his new personal slave. To not do so wouldn't be safe for the slave, and Derek would do whatever he could to protect Stiles.

Not all slaves underwent such a process -- Talia didn't have to mark every single slave that the pack purchased, for instance -- but personal slaves were a different matter. They lived in close proximity to the werewolves, in their home territory so to speak, and in Derek's case especially it made a huge difference, because he'd waited so long to choose his own personal slave.

"If you don't mark him as yours," Alan assured Derek, because he looked as though he could use a little more assurance, "It's dangerous for him -- both where your instincts and other werewolves are concerned -- and he knows that. Stiles expects you to mark him, and it might worry him more if you didn't. Just remember that when you move to touch him, he's been conditioned to expect you to hurt him."

Derek let out a disgruntled sound. "Trust me," he snapped, "I'll never forget that."

Stiles wouldn't let him forget, the way he flinched away from sudden movements, Alan thought. Well, they'd get that taken care of with time, and nothing but time would effect that change.

"Keep him safe and warm," he continued, because Stiles would be finished dressing and would come join them at any moment. He was safe enough in the examination room; Alan had anything Stiles could harm a werewolf or himself with locked carefully away. "I'll send you a package later today with several items. Medication for his throat, some supplements, and a meal plan to get his weight up where it needs to be. The menu is flexible, with suggested substitutions, but I want him eating well. Just don't expect him to be able to stomach full portions right away."

Derek was nodding. "Got it. Mom already pointed that out to me, and I haven't been insisting he eat more than he's comfortable with." He suddenly looked stricken and shifted awkwardly. "Except the first meal we had together; I gave him three slices of pizza and that was probably too much."

"Well, you were operating on the instinct to provide for the boy you'd brought home," Alan told him consolingly. "And you know better now."

There was a quiet footfall behind him, and Alan didn't turn, instead keeping an eye on Derek's face. The way it brightened, his features sharpening but his body posture relaxing, spoke volumes.

"Stiles," was all Derek said, but that was enough to have Stiles crossing the waiting room to stand beside him. And he didn't even look reluctant. Of course, Derek was something that was familiar in a strange place. Granted, they'd only met the day before, and Stiles was clearly fearful of his new owner, but he also knew Derek better than he knew Alan.

And also there was the probable bond to take into consideration.

Derek placed a hand on the back of Stiles' neck, just holding him gently, and Stiles did not flinch or cringe away. Alan took that as a hopeful sign. The boy had been abused and neglected but he could be taught better. The Hale pack, and Derek specifically, would see to it that he became the person he could have been if his life circumstances had been better.

Or, at least as close to it as they could manage.

Derek most likely hadn't even meant to touch Stiles, after what he and Alan had been discussing, but it had been instinct, and it had evidently been the right thing to do.

Talia Hale was a little fearful for Derek, because he'd become bonded to a human boy who was terrified of him, and because he already so clearly cared about Stiles so much. Alan had sympathized with her concern, before....

But now he felt a ray of hope. And he smiled that both of them without any reservations to the expression.

"Stiles, I'll need to see you again," he said. "But right now I'm giving you a clean bill of health."

"For a follow-up, right?" Stiles asked, giving Alan a look that he would have labeled saucy if it had been someone else talking.

"Yes," he confirmed, though there was more to it than that. Stiles didn't need to worry about that now, though. "Also, as the Hale Emissary I'm required to make a house call at some time during the coming three weeks, since you're not living in the home of the alpha. I'll put it off as long as possible, and it's only a formality, so neither of you has anything to worry about."

Their faces told Alan that they'd both worry anyhow since it was in their individual natures, for different reasons, but he couldn't completely forego the visit. He could delay it for a while, and he would, but it was a necessity.

Besides, he did want to see how Stiles fit into Derek's tiny household.

"Can we go home now?" Derek asked, probably not even realizing how plaintive he sounded.

"Just one more thing," Alan said.

Derek rolled his eyes, but remained where he was. Alan smiled wryly, then walked over to embrace the startled beta, putting some force into his hug.

"Congratulations on getting your own personal slave, Derek," Alan said, holding on tight. After a moment or two Derek hugged him back. "I'm so proud of you.

He was, too. Alan had been the one, second after Talia, of course, to make the most effort at putting Derek back together after what Kate Argent had done to him. It hadn't been pretty or easy, and it had taken years.

But now Derek was in a position where he could take care of another living being; one who was about as damaged as he was, though in different ways.

Alan didn't take any credit for this; it had all been Derek. With his mother's unwavering love and support, and Alan offering guidance as both a doctor and the pack emissary, Derek had finally come to this point. And Alan wanted to let him know how very proud he was.

"Thanks," Derek mumbled gruffly. Alan knew that Derek still thought that the slavery of humans was wrong and that he shouldn't even be required to own a personal slave, and he was proud of Derek for that as well. But he couldn't really say so, even with Talia Hale, and her liberal outlooks, as his alpha.

"And Stiles," Alan said, once he'd let Derek loose. Stiles looked alarmed, as though he feared that Alan was going to hug him as well, but Alan only held out a hand for him to shake. "I'm very pleased to meet you. Welcome to the Hale pack."

He'd really wanted to say "Hale family" but his could see Stiles' generous mouth twist at even the suggestion that he was a member of the pack, and Talia had warned him ahead of time that Stiles didn't believe that human slaves could be considered family by werewolves, so he avoided the word that otherwise would have come naturally to his lips.

"Thanks," Stiles rasped in echo of Derek and he was already moving away from Alan, both in his attitude and in the way he took half a step backward, but he took the proffered hand and gave it a firm shake in return. So there was that.

"We're headed home now," Derek said, taking his own step backward, dragging Stiles with him, and Alan kept a close eye on them both, but Stiles didn't seem to be upset by this, so he didn't say anything, except to wish them a safe trip back to Derek's apartment.

"Bye," Derek blurted, practically power walking them both out of Alan's office,

Talia was scheduled to arrive in about half an hour; that would give Alan plenty of time to begin putting together the package he was sending to Derek's apartment before the end of the day. He'd instructed Derek to feed Stiles correctly, and he'd promised Stiles aid for his throat, his panic attacks, and his insomnia.

Alan believed in a certain balance to the universe. Derek had suffered undeserved at Kate's hands, but Alan thought that he'd just met his soulmate, which might counter that a little. Stiles had spent most of his young life so far being abused and neglected. So now it was time for him to be fed and healed and surrounded by people who cared about him, werewolves and humans alike.

Talia had expressed the hope that Stiles might heal what was still damaged in Derek at the same time Derek healed what had been broken inside Stiles.

And to be completely honest -- which he was, because the thought was in his own head and he didn't have to be diplomatic -- Alan didn't see any reason why she shouldn't be right.

They might need a few nudges in the right direction, but that was what an alpha and an emissary were for.

That was what family was for.

***

Derek had given some powerful consideration to stopping in the bathroom at Deaton's before they had left. Stiles' skin reeked of Deaton, the plastic gloves Deaton had used during the exam, and the impersonal cotton of the gown Stiles had worn.

He hadn't, mainly because his family visited Deaton on a regular basis and if he'd pissed on Stiles in the bathroom, they would know. He wasn't really bothered by the fact that they'd know he'd done it; it would be that they'd know he couldn't wait, that his grasp on Stiles was that tenuous, that much in need of immediate strengthening.

Stiles was passive and let Derek touch him with his bare palms in an attempt to undo some of the damage done to his scent in Deaton's exam room, not panicking. Derek felt bad about doing it but he did make sure his movements were slow and deliberate, not quick, and that he only touched where Stiles' skin was bare. It still felt too much like molestation to him -- he was hypersensitive about that ever since Kate -- but Derek knew that Stiles knew it was necessary.

Derek regretted his decision to wait on marking Stiles as soon as they set foot in the elevator and he picked up the faint trace of Laura's scent. His older sister was always welcome, and it had been too long since he'd last seen her, and he knew she'd want to meet Stiles, but... well, her timing was really awful.

He unlocked the door, listening for Laura. She was in the kitchen, which he appreciated, making the herbal tea that she preferred over coffee.

"Go and shower again," he instructed Stiles once they were into the apartment. He stripped off his shirt, leaving himself in a tank, and shoved it toward Stiles. "Put this on and the jeans you were wearing this morning." They still smelled new but at least they hadn't been in Deaton's office like the jeans Stiles had on now.

"My sister is in the kitchen," Derek continued, because Stiles had no way of knowing that with his human senses of smell and hearing. "So come and join us once you're clean."

Stiles nodded, his expression impossible to read, and accepted the shirt. He moved to do as directed, and Derek relaxed a little, though he wasn't going to feel completely right until Stiles smelled only of their mingled scents.

Even his mother had said that their personal odors blended perfectly. As much as Derek respected Deaton and felt like the man was family, he didn't like Stiles smelling like him, even a little.

Well, he didn't like Stiles smelling like anything other than his. Derek wasn't thinking of Stiles as a possession, the way some werewolves considered their slaves, but he did feel deep inside himself that Stiles belonged to him. Derek belonged to Stiles in turn, too, so it was sort of okay.

Except for the part where it was strange and little alarming. But Derek had learned to listen to what his instincts were telling him. And they said that Stiles should smell like Derek's and nothing else.

Derek momentarily lost himself in pondering if he could ever talk Stiles into marking him with his piss, the way he marked Stiles. It wasn't normally done so Stiles might balk, and Derek shouldn't spring it on him any time soon, but it was such a titillating idea that once it had occurred to Derek, he didn't think he'd be able to forget about it.

But right now Laura was here. And even though the thought of marking Stiles made Derek's bladder feel tight and his cock feel heavy, he wasn't going to indulge this need.

If he was honest, Derek knew that Laura wouldn't judge him for marking Stiles. She was fighting for the freedom of all humans, but she would understand the necessity of Stiles smelling like he belonged here in Derek's space. She didn't approve of the slavery of humans, but she agreed with the rest of the Hale family that they needed to take good care of the slaves they had to have.

But the truth was that Derek wouldn't feel comfortable pissing on Stiles while his older sister was listening. It was an intimate act, and Derek loved Laura but he wanted to keep it between just himself and Stiles.

Derek tugged at the hem of his tank and headed for the kitchen. He could hear the shower starting up and he wanted to be in it with Stiles, but it wasn't every day his sister came to see him. She was mainly here because Derek had emailed her about Stiles, Derek was sure, but the important thing was that Laura was here.

This was Stiles' third shower in just a little over twenty-four hours, but it was a matter of making sure he smelled like he belonged, and besides, when he'd come into Derek's life he'd been so filthy that he was owed several baths.

"Laura," Derek greeted as he walked into the kitchen. She couldn't come home to the Hale house anymore -- not because she wasn't welcome, but because it wouldn't be safe for her or for the family -- but she had the code to Derek's elevator, a copy of his key, and the doorman had instructions not to stop her on her way in.

It was going to be weird and different, having her in his territory now that he had Stiles, but Derek had always been comfortable with her being here before, and hopefully that would carry over and wouldn't change.

"Derek!"

Laura leapt into his arms and he caught her, holding on tight and squeezing her just as hard as she was squeezing him. She was his older sibling and Derek had spent so many years in her shadow before he'd grown into himself that he was always a little surprised when he realized she was shorter than him, as well as being far more slender.

"I've missed you so much," Laura said, rubbing her cheek against his jaw despite the risk of stubble burn. Well, with werewolf healing it wouldn't be much more than a momentary irritation, and it was worth it to share their scents.

"Missed you too," Derek confessed, breathing in the familiar smell of her, enjoying the warmth and closeness that they were able to give each other. After Kate Derek had become limited in who he would allow into his personal bubble but family members were always welcome; especially his mother and Laura.

He set her back own on her feet after a few moments and went to make some tea for himself, since she'd put his old fashioned pot on to boil. He preferred the electric kettle, but Laura was something of a traditionalist. Despite her extremely liberal views regarding human slaves and her on-spot fashion sense, she was more of a homebody than anyone else in the family, except maybe Derek himself.

Of course, that might be related to the fact that they were the two who had gone for years each without a personal slave of their own. Laura had gotten one at the usual age, and he was still with her, but she called him a friend and compatriot in her cause, rather than a slave, and she never asked him to do something for her that she could do for herself. Like cooking or making tea.

Derek strongly suspected they were lovers as well, but he tried not to think about that. Not because Jordan was a human, but because Laura was his big sister. Euw.

"So, you finally did it," Laura said, leaning back against the counter by the sink and sipping her own tea. "You finally got a slave of your own."

"Yeah, sorry," he replied automatically, glancing over his shoulder. It felt so good to see Laura in his kitchen. Maybe he would bristle once Stiles was out of the shower and joined them, but for right now he was happy to spend a little time with his sister.

"Don't be sorry," Laura said fiercely, though her expression was equal parts wry and affectionate. "We haven't freed all the humans yet, so of course you have to have a personal slave. I'm just proud of you that you finally feel ready to take that step. And you're making someone's life better, Derek. There's no reason to apologize for that."

"Well, it wouldn't take much to make Stiles' life better," Derek grumbled, not to denigrate himself, but because it was true, because he might not know any of the details of Stiles' past but he could tell even without knowing specifics that it had been awful.

"How's he doing?" Laura asked, as the two of them sat at the table. Derek positioned himself so that he was facing the kitchen entryway and Laura let him. Stiles was still in the shower, but that was good. The less he smelled like anything other than his own flesh and Derek's bathing products, the better.

Derek had emailed Laura about Stiles, telling her the basics, and that was probably why she was here right now. If he'd been a normal slave, one who hadn't been abused and scarred by cruel owners, then she would likely have stayed away longer.

Or maybe not. After what had happened with Kate, his mother, Laura, and Peter had all become far more protective over Derek than they had been before. So even if Stiles had been an average, undamaged slave, Laura probably would have wanted to check him out.

"Deaton gave him a clean bill of health," Derek said. "We just got back from seeing him. But he also said he needs to see Stiles again." He grimaced and sipped his tea. "Stiles is... he's skinny and he's scarred and he's convinced that I'm going to attack him every time I move."

"Shit, I'm sorry," Laura sighed. "That sucks. But it's good that he's with you now. You'll take proper care of him."

"If he'll let me," Derek grunted, scowling.

"How bad is it, really?" Laura asked, brows knitting. She looked a lot like their mother, but also like Derek might if he was a lot prettier and hell of a lot more feminine. Her hair was long and right now it was loose, even though Derek knew she usually wore it pulled back, ready for action. She looked healthy, he thought, well rested and well fed, and he was glad. Their mom wasn't the only person who worried about her.

"You weren't very forthcoming in your email," Laura continued, her expression serious. At least she wasn't taking this matter lightly, the way Peter had done.

Derek shrugged, because how much more was there to say?

"He freaked out when he found out who I was," he confessed, because that hadn't been in his email. "Mom thinks he thinks I'll take my revenge on Kate through him, and she's probably right. He's been way more scared of me ever since he heard the name 'Hale' and he was already on edge." He frowned. "He spent the night hiding in the corner between his dresser and the wall. He didn't sleep."

Laura gave him a knowing look. "And you would know that because...?"

"You were asking about Stiles, not me," Derek grumped, not ready to tell Laura he'd had a sleepless night too. Especially not when she'd clearly already guessed.

"Well, he's on his way in here," Laura said, as if Derek wasn't listening to every light footfall coming down the hall.

Stiles entered the kitchen with a blank expression that Derek knew masked uncertainty and anxiety, as if the two werewolves couldn't smell the emotions on him. Derek had to give him props for the effort, even though he hated the mindset that made Stiles feel it was necessary.

Stiles looked adorable, with his hair flattened to his skull, his face flushed pink from the heat of the shower, Derek's shirt hanging off of his narrow torso, and those red and white striped fuzzy socks on under the jeans. Derek wanted to grab him and hold him and rub his scent all over him and he wanted Stiles to rub his cute up-turned nose against Derek's cheek and throat....

Laura was looking at Derek with one dark brow arched up in a way that was so much like their mother it was kind of freaky, and even though she couldn't really know what he was thinking, Derek blushed. But then, within a moment, Laura turned her attention to Stiles as well, where it should be.

"Hello, Stiles," she said, rising and holding out a hand.

Derek barely restrained a whine, because she was going to be getting her smell on his Stiles, right after Stiles had bathed. But he couldn't stop them without looking and sounding like an idiot and probably frightening Stiles. And then Laura would never stop judging him.

Thankfully Laura either didn't notice his internal conflict or she ignored him, all of her focus on Stiles.

"Stiles, this is my sister, Laura," Derek introduced as the two of them shook hands. At least this time Stiles didn't freak out, like he'd done when Derek had introduced him to his mother. Well, Stiles knew he was a Hale now. He probably hadn't heard of Laura, despite her work on behalf of human freedom, but that was understandable, since she tended to try to stay deep undercover.

"His older sister," Laura smirked. Since she'd set herself up so perfectly, Derek couldn't resist digging.

"You said it, I didn't," he snarked.

"Asshole," she said affectionately, leaning over and ruffling his hair with the hand she'd just used to greet Stiles with. As perfectly as Derek and Stiles' scents meshed together, Laura's scent wasn't exactly a pleasant addition. At least not to Derek's nose. He loved his sister, but Stiles was his.

Derek squawked and tried to duck, long years of habit guiding his movements, squirming to one side away from Laura's hand and almost falling off his chair.

"Laura!"

"What?" she asked relentlessly. "Did I ruin the perfect mess that you took hours to perfect?"

"My hair is not messy," Derek said indignantly. "I lied before; I didn't miss you at all."

"You're a lying liar who lies," Laura mocked, and for as long as they went between visits it had taken them about ten minutes together before their behavior devolved into what they'd been like as children. Hell, they hadn't really ever matured.... Though Derek was grateful that Laura was willing to tease him at all; she'd stopped for a while after Kate.

Sometimes Derek felt like his life was divided into two parts; "before Kate" and now. Sometimes he felt like he was divided into two people, that he'd changed so much he wasn't the same person anymore that he had used to be.

But then Laura started teasing him and he responded in kind, and he knew he wasn't really a different person at all. He was changed, but he wasn't completely transformed, and that was a good thing. Kate had held enough power -- too much power -- over him while she'd been alive and keeping him prisoner with doses of powdered wolfsbane and electricity and chains, torturing him. He didn't need her having any control over his life now that she was dead.

"Stiles, would you like some tea?" Laura asked before Derek could. Which he'd been about to do, he swore, before Laura had distracted him. Well, he'd probably have thought to offer. Maybe. It was Laura's tea, though, so it was just as well she be the one to ask.

Stiles was staring at them both with wide eyes, his red lips parted. This expression made Derek instantly anxious, but he thought that Stiles looked more confused than anything else. At least he didn't look as frightened or anxious as he usually did.

"I.... I can...."

"No, I insist," Laura said briskly, giving Stiles a warm smile. "But maybe you and Derek can whip up something to snack on? That'd be awesome."

Stiles looked at Derek, seeming almost fearful now, and Derek tried to give him an encouraging lift of the brows, but he wasn't sure he communicated what he was trying to communicate. He and Stiles really seemed to get their wires crossed pretty much constantly.

"I'll slice some ham and cheese if you put it on crackers," he offered. He knew that Stiles would feel better if all the food prep was left to him, but he didn't want to set a precedent, he wanted Stiles to learn what was expected from him here in their home. And what Derek expected was for them to share the cooking duties. A lot of personal slaves were chefs as well as chauffeurs, they cleaned their owner's homes, they did their laundry, and many other tasks.

Maybe it was because he'd gone without a personal slave for so long, maybe it was because he didn't believe that humans should be enslaved at all, but Derek was used to and wanted to do most of those things for himself. He enjoyed cooking, and he was good at it. He wouldn't mind Stiles helping him... or him helping Stiles... but there was no way he'd be staying out of his own kitchen just because he had a personal slave right now.

Stiles nodded, rolling up his overlong sleeves and going to the sink to wash his hands, even though he'd just bathed. Well, he'd shaken hands with Laura, and who knew where she had been.

Derek dragged his eyes away from Stiles, toward his sister, and caught her smirking at him. He pulled a sour face, and she stuck her tongue out. So incredibly mature. No one would think in looking at them that teenaged Derek had endured days of physical and psychological torment, or that Laura was currently doing a damned good job of leading the cause to abolish all human slavery.

"Are you staying for dinner?" Derek asked, opening the fridge after directing Stiles to grab both the wheat and the rye crackers out of the pantry. He desperately wanted her to say "no" but....

"It would be a shame to make the trip and not stay for dinner," she said cheerfully, giving him a look that told him she knew what he wanted but she wasn't going to let him get away with being antisocial. That wasn't it, though. Derek just wanted some time to have Stiles to himself. But he couldn't tell her that, because Stiles would hear and take it the wrong way and completely panic.

"I'll spring for take-in, of course," Laura continued, pouring the steaming water for Stiles' tea. "Whatever you want."

Derek grunted, resigning himself to having his sister stay for dinner. Well, that might make Stiles feel more comfortable about eating at the table... if it didn't make him more uncomfortable, that was.

Stiles was hovering awkwardly next to the two big platters he'd put on the counter, placing crackers deliberately on them. Derek hurried to slice the cheese, so that Stiles could start on that, and then grabbed the ham.

He'd diced part of it for their omelet earlier in the day. Now he sliced the rest, cutting the slices into smaller squares, and once that was completed he turned those over to Stiles as well.

"I'm setting your tea on the table, Stiles," Laura said, then drained the last of hers and went to make another mug. Derek's mug was still half-full, so he was left out of the procedure. He was okay with that; he really did prefer coffee.

As soon as Stiles finished one of the platters, Derek grabbed it to carry it over to the table while the boy started the other. He knew that Stiles expected to do all the serving, but he also knew that Stiles was weak and needed to regain his strength. Derek didn't want to risk him potentially dropping the food and freaking himself out with expected punishment.

"Get us some plates, lazy older sister," Derek ordered Laura, smacking her hand when she grabbed at a cracker topped with a generous amount of cheese and ham the moment he set the laden platter down.

"Get some fruit, then," she retorted through a mouthful of snack food. "I swear, you court scurvy around here."

"Werewolves don't get scurvy," Derek said scornfully, going to the fridge and grabbing a container of strawberries that he'd bought just the other day. "And I do so eat fruit. You're thinking of Cora; she's the one who's all meat all the time."

Laura pulled a face. "Maybe now, but I've been away so long that my knowledge of my younger siblings can be a little sketchy. And I don't think I'm misremembering that you went through a stage where you wouldn't touch anything that once grew out of the ground, brother mine."

"Maybe when I was five," Derek scoffed, rinsing the berries and dumping them in a bowl. Then he sobered. "I'm sorry you can't come home, Laura. It really sucks, and you know Mom misses you a ton."

"I know." Laura set the plates down on the table, and she looked pensive, though not really sad, per se. "I do know, and I miss her just as much. But we all know why it's safer for me to stay away."

"Yeah." Derek was just glad that this moratorium on visiting home didn't include his apartment. It wasn't because Laura didn't mind putting him in danger's path, he knew. It was because their mother was such a prominent alpha that being seen to "harbor" someone who was actively working to dismantle the entire construct of human slavery, even if it was just a daughter coming home to see her family, would be a detriment to Talia's own efforts to bring about equality, and many might view it as a sign of weakness.

Assholes, one and all, Derek thought angrily, fetching the other platter of snacks that Stiles had just finished. Humans shouldn't be enslaved in the first place, but Talia and Laura's differing ways of dealing with the issue shouldn't mean that Laura didn't get to come home for holidays, or even just stop by to say "hi" to her family.

Well, at least she was able to visit Derek. There were still those who knew his name, who knew that he'd been held and tortured by a human. But he looked so different now than he had at seventeen -- no longer slender and gawky -- that most didn't recognize him by his face. So to most werewolves he was just a nobody, and there was very little hazard inherent in entertaining Laura for a few hours at random times.

"Come and sit," Derek told Stiles, taking the strawberries over and putting them on the table as well. The boy looked lost, but he also seemed fascinated by Derek and Laura's banter, his gaze flitting back and forth between them, his mouth hanging open a little, drawing attention to how plump his lips were. Derek felt a little uncomfortable noticing that, but he couldn't un-see it now.

"Your tea is ready," Laura added, gesturing toward the steaming mug. Derek grimaced and went over to grab a water out of the fridge. He'd drink the rest of his own tea, but it wasn't his favorite. Besides, he needed to hydrate; especially if he was going to be marking Stiles as soon as Laura was on her way out of his apartment later in the evening. And he was definitely planning on doing just that.

"We'll all sit," Derek said, placing a careful hand between Stiles' shoulderblades and giving him the smallest nudge, just to get his feet moving. "That is, unless a certain someone insists that I get vegetables of some sort to put out for snacks."

Laura gave him a horrified look. "Vegetables? What are you, a rabbit?" She tilted her head and got a devilish gleam in her eyes. "Well, though, you do have those cute bunny teeth...."

"Ha-ha," Derek snarled, then clamped his lips together when he realized he'd just exposed his two front teeth, which Laura had been teasing him about practically since they'd grown in. He glared at Laura. Stiles was staring at him now, and Derek flushed. Damn older sisters. Now Stiles would be thinking of a rabbit every time Derek opened his mouth.

Well, that was better than thinking about his previous owners and the way they'd hurt him, Derek supposed. He'd been hoping to find some way to convince Stiles that he wasn't planning on attacking or punishing him; evidently what he'd needed to do was have Laura stop by and begin treating him like a younger brother!

If it worked, though....

"We'll get some veggies with dinner," Laura said, piling her plate with ham and cheese on crackers, and a big red cascade of strawberries. "I'm all about being healthy, but vegetables are a meal sort of thing, not something you eat as a snack."

Derek shrugged. Sounded good to him, though he didn't mind having vegetables as a snack, if it was the right vegetable. He'd just as soon sit here and eat the food they'd already prepared, rather than having to get back in the fridge and try to figure out something else to add.

"How have you been, Laura?" Derek asked, nudging Stiles' plate and giving him a meaningful lift of his eyebrow. Stiles bit his lower lip and hesitantly plucked a few snacks off the platter. Derek turned his attention fully on Laura, both because he'd asked her a question and because he knew Stiles would feel more comfortable eating if he wasn't being watched.

"Good," Laura said, popping a strawberry in her mouth and chomping it with relish. "Mm, I've missed these."

"Are you not able to get strawberries?" Derek asked, concerned, worried that Laura might be roughing it just a little too much, even though she was clean and smelled healthy and was dressed in nice clothing. "You're not unable to get groceries, are you?"

She gave him a look and answered, "No, it's because Jordan is allergic, dumbass."

"Euw," Derek said before he could censor himself. He could only think of one reason Laura would have to avoid strawberries if it was her former personal slave who was allergic. And he just didn't want to go there where his older sister was involved.

"Like you're one to talk," Laura said snippily, wrinkling her nose at him and eating two more strawberries with great deliberation and an overabundance of attitude.

"What?" Derek probably didn't want to know what she was talking about, and was just as glad when she didn't answer his almost involuntary query.

"I'm doing fine," she said instead, getting back to his previous question. "Things are moving slowly, but they're moving. We've figured out a way to get escaped slaves into Canada without much danger of them being caught, even though it's not foolproof. Any attempt is better than them staying here, though."

"That's great," Derek said, because it was. "But are there homes, jobs, family for them once they're up there?"

Laura grimaced. "Usually. We do as much as we can, but sometimes all that really matters is survival. And if there's no actual family, there's almost always someone who has been in the same position that's willing to open their hearts, and sometimes their homes, to those who are new from the hard life and in need."

Derek nodded. If someone had been able to help Stiles get up to Canada.... Then Derek would never have met him and that was an awful thought, but it was the slaves like Stiles, the ones who were being used and abused and scarred and mutilated and killed that made the reformations their mother was working on so important, and made what Laura did even more immediately vital.

Humans were still enslaved in Canada, but they had a lot more rights up there, and their protection was taken far more seriously. Slaves who made their way over the border weren't exactly welcome... but they were never deported back where they had come from because if they made their way to Canada it was for a very good reason. Which was why part of Laura's energies went toward helping so many slaves out of the country.

Derek dared a glance at Stiles, who was listening to them with an unreadable expression. He wasn't eating, but Derek didn't think now was the time to poke him about it. He did, however, grab the bowl and pour some strawberries onto Stiles' plate, then took some for himself. There was no way Laura was going to eat them all, even though he didn't begrudge her enjoying some of them.

"What about your other areas of effort?" Derek pursued, uncapping his water and taking a slug. The ham was salty and it made him thirsty.

Laura pursed her lips. "That's... going more slowly..." she said, looking pensive. "One step forward, two steps back, you know.... But I think it's best if I don't speak in specifics. For your sake more than mine."

"All right," Derek said agreeably. He considered that he was just lucky to have Laura sitting here in his kitchen with him. And if he didn't know the details of what she was doing, he wouldn't know how dangerous it was, which might save him worrying about his sister....

As it was, he took some comfort in thinking that she would be being careful in order to keep Jordan safe, right? Because he was a human. So by association, hopefully she'd be staying safe more often than not. He hoped.

"What about you?" Laura asked, eating more ham and crackers. "Aside from your completely adorable new housemate, that is." She gave Stiles a broad wink.

Derek chanced another glance at Stiles, biting back a grin when he saw the stunned, deer-in-headlights look on his, yes, frankly adorable face. He was grateful to Laura for treating Stiles normally, for not calling attention to his scarring, his skinniness, his skittish behavior.... But then, she worked with a lot of humans who were in the same situation Stiles was in, and so by now she would have learned how best to deal with them. All of the Hales were smart, and Laura was no exception.

"Not much has changed, other than that," Derek said, because it was true. "I'm still working for Peter, but he's not going easy on me, I swear."

"No, he wouldn't," Laura said, pulling a sour face. She and Peter didn't get along very well, which made Derek feel bad. Because he knew Peter could be prickly and obnoxious, but after his mother he and Laura were the two most important people in Derek's life and while he understood why they clashed that didn't mean he had to like it. "If anything, he's probably putting off some of his own work on you."

"I like to think I'm intelligent enough that I'd recognize if that were happening," Derek said mildly, not trying to defend Peter, but, "Come on, Laura."

"Sorry, bunny-teeth," she said, reaching over and cupping his cheek briefly with a hand that smell of tea, ham, strawberries, and her own unique scent. He really had missed her, and he didn't mind her mingling their own scents, as long as she wasn't touching Stiles.

"That's not to say he hasn't tried," Derek added, giving her a little grin. "In the past. But I shut that shit down fast."

"That's my baby brother," Laura laughed, ruffling his hair again.

"Dammit, Laura!"

From this point their conversation naturally turned to Laura asking about various members of the family and Derek catching her up. He let her know of any important events by email, of course, but it was the little day-to-day things that she missed and liked hearing about.

Once all the snacks were gone, Laura brewed up some more tea, Derek got both himself and Stiles some water, and the three of them moved to the living room.

Like when his mother had visited -- had it really just been the night before?! -- Stiles ended up alone on the loveseat, while Derek lounged on the sofa with Laura. This time Stiles sat back, leaning into the cushions and curling his feet under him, looking far more relaxed than Derek had yet seen him, even though his hands were wrapped tightly around his water bottle and his eyes were fixed on the two werewolves in the room, both watching them interact with fascination and staying on alert at the same time.

It made Derek feel sad and angry that Stiles still felt this was necessary, but when he compared his behavior and body language now to how he'd been the night before, he had to admit that the change was tremendous and promising.

And in less than a day, even. Having Laura here really was working to his benefit, Derek thought. Completely aside from just being happy to spend time with his sister, he was grateful to her for this.

Stiles still hadn't said a single word, except for his stuttering effort to offer to brew his own tea, but Laura didn't seem to mind and she didn't push. Derek let Stiles be as well, because what good would trying to make him talk do?

As it did when they talked, the conversation shifted around to the subject of Laura's greatest passion. Derek was still stinging over the fact that he'd basically had to get a personal slave, and while he would never regret purchasing Stiles, he did regret that Stiles had been available to purchase.

"Peter just doesn't get it," he grumped, peevish over that fact even though Peter had been helpful and -- for him -- relatively patient the day before. "I try to ask him how he would feel if the humans had enslaved us, and it's like his brain won't even function that way. He won't even entertain the possibility."

"That's pretty common, though," Laura said, not leaping on the chance to criticize their uncle, which Derek appreciated. "Even those who support the elimination of slavery altogether can't imagine a world in which we're the minority and the humans are in power. Even though, with a few key differences in history, it might very well have happened."

Derek nodded, because he'd heard all that before, from Laura, and he'd done his own research as well. He wasn't as militant as Laura was, tended more to take his mother's view, but he could see both their sides. What he couldn't see was Peter's viewpoint, where he was fine with slave ownership and didn't care about all the slaves like Stiles who were out there being damaged and destroyed every day. He knew Peter tended to selfishness unless someone he personally cared about was involved, but it was still hard for him to reconcile that reality with the uncle who'd held him close after killing Kate, keeping him sane and in one piece until his mother had arrived.

"You do realize," he said, because he worried about Laura and was a little afraid that someday she would start a war that might finish her, "That realistically speaking we can't completely disband the civil convention of human slavery; not without deconstructing our economy and even our society past the point that it's self-maintaining."

Laura scoffed. "Fancy words to say that the werewolf population has become totally dependant on the human race to do all their dirty work and hard labor for them."

Derek shrugged. "That doesn't make it not true."

"It can be done," Laura insisted. "We just need the right people in charge."

"But the right people will never be in charge," Derek pointed out, and he didn't want Stiles to think he was pro-slavery, but he did worry about Laura, that she might wreck her life in pursuit of something that could never possibly happen. "To make the changes necessary... that would destroy a lot of packs that are very powerful now, the way things are. So of course they're going to fight any possible change of that nature."

"There are ways around that," Laura said cagily, but before Derek could ask her what she meant, she was moving onward. "In Australia humans are considered citizens, right alongside the werewolves."

Derek huffed a little laugh and shook his head. "In Australia, they say the humans are as scary as the werewolves," he said. "They have to be to survive the native wildlife."

"My point is, it can work," Laura pursued.

"And my point is that I'm worried about you," Derek blurted, brows lowering. "I'm not opposed to your goal, Laura. I'd love to see complete freedom for humans, I really would. But I just don't see how our country, as it is now, would be able to support that if it happened."

"Don't stress about it," Laura soothed, reaching over and threading her fingers through Derek's hair. "Just live your life and be happy, Derek, okay? I'm doing okay, I'm staying safe, and I'm being smart about what I do. You have your own things to focus your attention on."

"You can't tell me not to worry and expect me to just do it," Derek grumbled, but he did feel a little better with Laura offering him confident assurances and petting his head a little. "I just miss you, okay? I know what you're doing it important, but don't ever forget that you are important to me."

"Aw." Laura threw her arms around Derek and held him tightly. "It's okay. I'm fine. I wouldn't visit you if I wasn't."

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" Derek mumbled into her shoulder as he held on tightly. "That someday you might just stop dropping by?"

"That wasn't what I meant," she chided, giving him an extra squeeze that robbed him momentarily of breath. "And you know it."

Maybe it was for the best that at this point there was a knock on the door. It was Scott McCall, with the package Deaton had promised.

"Hey, Laura," he greeted cheerfully, handing it over without trying to set foot in the apartment. Everyone knew how Derek was about his personal space, and while Scott sometimes forgot himself, he was usually respectful of others' needs.

"Hey, Scott," Laura greeted, giving him a bright smile. "Nice to see you looking well. Tell your mother I said hi, okay?"

"Will do," he replied, bobbing his shaggy head. He was a werewolf but his mother was human. Derek had never asked what had happened to cause that, and no one had ever enlightened him. It wasn't any of his business, though he was curious. Most likely Scott's father had been a werewolf. That was far more likely than Scott being bitten by a rogue alpha and surviving -- something that almost never happened, since it was even more taboo than werewolves becoming sexually involved with humans -- but that was also a possibility.

"Thanks," Derek grunted, clutching the package from Deaton. It wasn't even half the size that the box of clothing had been, but it was still pretty bulky, it was heavy, and it smelled like Deaton and medication, making Derek wrinkle his nose in distaste.

"See you guys later," Scott said, and his dark gaze did flicker over Derek's shoulder, eyeing Stiles with interest, but he didn't obviously pry and he didn't make any effort to prolong his stay.

"He's a good kid," Laura said, as Derek closed the door and carried the box over to the coffee table, feeling a slight sense of deja vu, since he'd done the same with the clothes his mother had had delivered. "Kind of a flake sometimes, but good."

Derek grunted, more interested in what Deaton had sent than discussing Scott McCall, though for the record he agreed with Laura. Deaton handled all of Derek's medical affairs personally, after Kate, but Derek knew that Scott was Deaton's assistant whenever another werewolf family member visited the clinic, and he was considered family.

"What's that?" Laura asked curiously, scooting forward and peering at the box as Derek sliced through the tape with a single claw.

"It's from Deaton," he replied absently.

"Oh, really?" Laura sassed, voice dripping with sarcasm. "It reeks of our pack emissary and was delivered by his assistant; I had no idea that Deaton sent it."

"You're so funny," Derek told her dryly, glaring. "Anyway, if you deduced all that, you should be able to figure out what's in it."

"Asshole," she said with no heat and a smile on her lips. "A housewarming gift for Stiles?"

Derek snorted, but she wasn't completely off. He glanced up as he opened the box. "Hey, Stiles," he said, speaking to the boy who was still sitting on the loveseat, staring at the box as though he feared it might contain a rattlesnake or something. "This is more for you than me; do you wanna look?"

Stiles bit his lip and shook his head slowly, but he moved reluctantly to the edge of the loveseat, feet planted on the floor and hands clutching at the cushions.

"All right," Derek said, delving into the box contents. "Yikes!"

As Deaton had promised, there was a meal plan, twelve pages printed front and back. Derek paged through it quickly. "This looks pretty straightforward," he told Stiles, giving him an encouraging grin. "It's all stuff I would be eating anyway. He even included some recipes, even though I mostly cook from scratch."

Stiles' brows wrinkled and he gave Derek a confused stare. Derek wondered if he'd ever actually specifically explained....

"You're my first personal slave," he said earnestly. "And the only one I'll ever have. I put off getting one for a long time, because I don't think slavery is right, and because I have some issues due to the thing with Kate Argent. So I've been cooking for myself ever since I got this apartment."

And, great, now Stiles was staring at him like he'd grown two heads. Laura, on the other hand, looked stunned melting into thoughtful. Derek scowled at her, shrugged uncomfortably, then shoved the meal plan into Stiles' lap.

"Let's see what else," he mumbled, ears burning. He knew Laura was shocked that he'd spoken so openly about his problems after Kate's torment to someone who was virtually a stranger... and yet to him Stiles wasn't a stranger. He'd been here a little over a day but Derek already felt like he belonged and he felt like he'd known him forever, had just been waiting to find him, and now that he was here, Derek had no intention of ever having to live without him.

"Pills," he said, rattling the bottles. He read the labels. "Vitamins and other supplements, like Deaton said. He's got notes, to take one a day with dinner. That works."

He set the bottles down and plucked a large ceramic jar with a corked top out of the box; one of three, in fact. This one had a label affixed as well.

"This is for your throat," he informed Stiles, reading the neat handwriting that Deaton favored over typing things and printing them out. "Drink a shot glass full once in the morning and once in the evening. Huh." He grunted and scowled. "I don't have a shot glass."

"Right there," Laura pointed. And Deaton had indeed helpfully included the aforementioned shot glass, wrapped in tissue, nestled near the jars of medication.

Derek shook his head, sighing. "Only Deaton would come up with such a weird unit of measurement," he complained. "A shot glass? Really?"

Laura snickered, and Derek gave her a dirty look.

Stiles was still just sitting there, though he'd moved enough to wrap his hands around the edges of the meal plan that Derek had plunked on his thighs. He was staring at the box with less trepidation now, but he still looked uncertain. At least he no longer seemed freaked out by the fact that he was Derek's first personal slave.

"There's tea for your throat as well," Derek said, putting the jar back in its bed of tissue paper and shoving things around. "The note says to brew it whenever, but to try to have it once a day." He glanced up at Stiles with a little smile. "He really wants to get your voice back to normal."

Stiles shrugged, his wide mouth skewed to one side.

"That'd be nice, if his stuff helps," Derek told him, trying to be honest without sounding condescending or too sentimental, "But whatever you sound like is fine, because it's you."

He could feel Laura staring at him, and he knew his ears were going pink again, but he held Stiles' gaze, hoping he wasn't imagining the warmth he saw in the deep brown.

Stiles didn't respond, though Derek thought maybe he looked a little softer, as though he believed that Derek wasn't judging him and finding him lacking just because someone had damaged his throat at some point. The pale column of his neck might not be scarred the way the flesh around his left eye was, but Derek of all people knew that not all damage was external and easily viewable.

Ducking his head, Derek rummaged through the box some more. And discovered, in one corner;

"Here's a bag, specifically labeled for you," he announced, pulling it out and handing it over. It felt heavier than he was expecting. He could hear more pills rattling and he was curious as to what was in there, but that was none of his business when Deaton had designated it for Stiles.

"You can wait and open that in your room, if you want," he informed Stiles. "Or... you could open it now," he concluded, as Stiles did just that.

Laura picked up one of the packets of tea, sniffing it and reading the brewing instructions, pretending not to be interested as Stiles removed items from the bag and placed them atop the meal plan that rested on his lap like an impromptu tabletop.

The first thing Stiles removed from the bag looked like a pendant; a simple one, just a indigo bead set in the middle of a round web woven out of very thin leather strips, the whole thing hanging from a thicker leather strap.

"What's that for?" Derek asked before he could censor himself, as Stiles read the tag Deaton had taped to the strap. "If you want to share, that is," he added quickly.

Instead of replying verbally, Stiles held it out to him, and Derek took it with careful hands.

"This is meant to help you sleep," Derek read off the tag. "Good." He nodded and handed it back. Stiles looked a little surprised, though whether it was at the word or Derek's actions, but he accepted it and dropped it back in the bag.

Derek was pleased that Stiles had confided in Deaton, and he hoped that the pendant would help. He wondered if there was actually any magic woven into the webbing, or if it was just supposed to give Stiles something to focus on and make him feel better. Either way he hoped it worked.

Next Stiles pulled out the bottle of pills that Derek had heard, and once again he handed it over after reading the label himself.

"I don't need to vet all of this," Derek told him, though he took the pills and ran his thumb over the label. He could smell that they were simple sugar, and this time he knew Deaton was giving Stiles a placebo, but since it was meant to help him control his panic attacks -- which the label made clear -- Derek could only approve. "You're allowed to have things that I don't know about, Stiles. It's okay."

Stiles looked at him as though he was talking crazy talk, and Laura made a small sound of discontent, but Stiles didn't argue and Laura didn't pursue the matter. Neither did Derek; he just handed the pills back to Stiles. He knew he couldn't force Stiles to gain a new mindset immediately, no matter how much he wished he could.

Stiles' eyes widened when he pulled out a small tablet, still in the box, and his hand was shaking a little when he handed it over to Derek.

Laura leaned forward, too curious not to pry, and so Derek read the note Deaton had included on the outside of the packaging.

"This is for Stiles to use to track his medical history, both past and present," he said, already nodding in approval. "He's supposed to note anything he thinks Deaton might find interesting. He can use it with my wireless to email Deaton any concerns he has that are immediate or extra worrying. He can set up a dream diary if he wants. There's already a spreadsheet set up to track his meals and sleep pattern, though Deaton says that part is optional. And, of course, he can just use it as a private tablet and do whatever he likes on it."

He nodded again, handing it back. "That's great. I'm glad Deaton thought if it. I should have already ordered you something like this, but now I don't have to. You can set it up with a private password," he told Stiles earnestly. "That way you don't need to worry about anyone else seeing anything, since you can just email Deaton any of the information he wants."

Stiles was looking... a little pale, Derek thought. As though he was on the verge of panicking. His heart was racing, and the last thing Derek wanted was for him to have another panic attack.

"This comes out of the Hale pack budget," he told Stiles in what he hoped was a soothing, reassuring tone of voice. "Every personal slave has one; in fact, they're usually bigger than this, but Deaton probably didn't want to intimidate you. It's all right, Stiles. This is something you can expect when you're part of the p-pack."

He fumbled a little over the last word, because he really should have been saying "family" but he knew better. Someday he could say it and Stiles would believe it, but now was not that time.

"What else is in the bag?" he asked, trying to change the subject to something less stressful for Stiles. The tablet was relatively light; it hadn't been the cause for the bag's heaviness.

Stiles set the tablet down and reached in the bag again, as though he'd been directed, and Derek hated that, but if it defused the situation a little he was all for it, just this once. He could sense the unhappiness radiating off Laura, but he'd warned her about how damaged Stiles was, and it wasn't as though she wasn't used to dealing with human slaves in this state. Hell, at least Stiles was resilient enough that he had a big chance for recovery. He was young and unbroken. And Derek was going to fix him.

All of Derek's big plans and altruistic feelings fled his mind when Stiles pulled a fair sized bottle of what was obviously sexual lubricant out of the bag.

"What."

Derek was pretty sure his face went through at least four different gradations of red while Laura hooted then cackled like an idiot and asked, "Does that seriously say 'for masturbation or other' on the label?"

Stiles' face was carefully blank, and Derek worried about what might be going on in his mind. He knew he and Laura were both overreacting, but come on, Deaton, really? He groaned and sank his head in his hands.

"Well, Deaton knows what a teenage boy needs," Laura continued, ruthlessly amused, and Derek raised his head to glare at her.

"Shut up," he grumped. "You're not helping anything here."

Laura was kind enough not to call him on his lie. Their mother had seemed to intimidate Stiles, despite how kind and soft-spoken she had been; just the fact that she was an alpha had been enough to set Stiles in a defensive mindset. Laura, however, was just being Laura, Derek's older sister, and her teasing might annoy Derek, but it seemed to be putting Stiles at ease more than anything had yet.

"Well," Derek said, trying to salvage the unsalvageable situation, "I'm glad that Deaton has thought of everything, I guess." Because he never would have thought to get Stiles lube himself, and Stiles was sixteen; he would need that.

Laura snickered and Derek shot her a dirty look. He supposed this could have been more awkward... maybe if his mother had been here instead of Laura... but if it been Mom, she wouldn't have poked fun like Laura was doing.

"Why don't you take that bag into your room," Derek suggested to Stiles as the boy dropped the lube back into it. "I'll grab this," he pulled the meal plan carefully off Stiles' lap, "And take the box into the kitchen, since that's where most of this is going to end up anyway. Laura can make us some hot chocolate in apology for being a bitch, and we can watch a movie or something."

"You're the bitch," Laura snarked, but she was already up and moving toward the kitchen, so Derek thought they'd probably still get some hot chocolate out of it.

As he carried the box from Deaton into the kitchen after Laura, Derek considered letting Stiles pick out the movie they would watch. But that would probably just put undue stress on him, and besides, Derek couldn't be sure that Stiles even knew of any recent films. It didn't exactly seem as though he'd have had time or opportunity to see commercials or browse movie sites on the internet, much less actually having the leisure to sit and watch films.

"He seems like a sweetie," Laura told Derek in low tones as she grabbed the milk out of his fridge and put a pan on the stovetop. "If you can bring him out of his shell a little."

"You've dealt with this sort of thing," Derek said, suddenly desperate for some reassurance from someone other than his mother or Deaton. "Do you think I can do that?"

"I'm sure of it," she said, squeezing his upper arm. "Just be patient, don't rush him, but don't miss a chance to move forward either."

"You make it sound so easy," Derek said bitterly, mouth turning down a little unhappily. Not that this was an unexpected answer, but he'd been hoping for something more.

"It won't be easy, but it'll be worth it." Laura gave him a smile. "You already care about him a lot, I can tell."

"Yeah," Derek gruffed, because where would be the use in denying it.

"Then everything will fall into place," Laura said, with what Derek felt was misplaced confidence. "And if you ever need any help or have any questions, just email or text me. I'll get back to you right away."

"Thanks." Derek let the gratitude he was feeling bleed into his voice. It was the same thing his mother had said to him, but he felt instinctively that Laura would be more of a help to him, since she had more experience with damaged slaves. "I'll probably do that."

"In the meantime, go and have him help you pick out a movie," Laura instructed, going about preparing their hot chocolate. "Don't make him choose, but give him a chance to give you input."

"I'll do that," Derek said, and since it was a really good idea that was what he did.

***

continued

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