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Stand Fast in Your Enchantments

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Stiles didn't wake up until they started painting his arms with the tincture. He recognized what it was the second it touched him, the elderberries staining his unmarked skin purple, the myrrh sparking and hissing when it touched the inked designs that wound around his arms from wrist to shoulder. He blinked muzzily at the ceiling, at the vague human shapes standing over him, at the straps that held him to the table, and almost choked on the cloying stench of his magic being snuffed out, one silky stroke of the paint brush at a time.

He didn't start screaming until they got to the runes that ran across his collarbones and down over his heart, and then he couldn't stop.

~*~

When he came to again he was face down on a cold floor in a dark room. Someone had put his pants and his T-shirt back on him, but his feet were bare, and freezing cold. His skin felt like it was on fire, and he groaned as he flopped over onto his back, memories of the dampening ritual making him shudder. He pushed them away and tried to figure out if he was injured otherwise, but he was such a mess from what the tincture had done to him that it was hard to tell. His head was pounding, his stomach roiling. His mouth tasted terrible, bitter and rank, and his throat hurt when he tried to swallow down the feeling of impending vomit. He closed his eyes and tried to take even, shallow breaths, but his entire body was shaking uncontrollably, and not just from the cold.

All those things, things he already knew, weren't the worst part, though. It was the things he didn't know that terrified the shit out of him. He didn't know where he was, or how he'd gotten here, or who had done this to him, or what they were going to do to him next, or how much longer he was going to be alive. He needed to figure out at least a few of those, and hopefully get the fuck out of here before something worse happened.

He forced himself to open his eyes again and began to take stock. It was definitely night. The moon was only a sliver, barely past new, but the sky was clear and there was just enough moonlight coming in through the barred window above his head that he could see his sweatshirt and jacket had been tossed on the floor next to him. He slowly pushed himself up to sitting, much to his body's extreme ire, and then had to pause to let another wave of nausea and dizziness pass, taking in big gulps of cold night air.

Once he felt marginally steadier, he reached for his sweatshirt, trying to pull it around his shivering shoulders with burning, clumsy hands. It turned out to be a sadly complicated task, and he was almost ready to just give up on it when he heard the growl.

Stiles' best friend was a werewolf. Some of his favorite clients were werewolves. Stiles knew damn well what a pissed-off wolf sounded like, and every hair on the back of his neck was telling him that somewhere in this room was a very pissed-off werewolf.

He took a deep breath, willing himself to calm the fuck down even as his already queasy stomach pitched and rolled in reaction to this unwelcome development. Ever so slowly, he turned his head in the direction of the growl, which ratcheted up a notch as soon as Stiles moved. The wolf was almost directly behind him, so Stiles had to nearly pull an Exorcist move to lay eyes on it, and then he immediately wished he hadn't. Staring out at him from the deeper dark of what appeared to be a doorway were two red, glowing eyes.

An alpha. Son of a bitch.

It was instinct that made him uselessly flex his hands, try to summon a protective spell, before he remembered what they'd done to him. He felt the familiar hollowness in his belly as his body made room for the magic to uncurl, the tingle under his breastbone when the rune tattooed there tried to flare to life, and then…nothing. The tingle faded away as quickly as it appeared, his stomach clenched down on itself as the nausea made a comeback, and he opened his perfectly ordinary fingers, from which no power flowed.

They'd taken away his magic and thrown him in a room with an alpha werewolf, who sounded decidedly not-friendly. And it was maybe just his imagination, but it looked like the wolf, who hadn't stopped growling, was moving closer.

"Hey," Stiles said cheerfully, because maybe he couldn't throw a whammy right now to save his life, but that didn't mean he didn't have other skills at his disposal. Maybe he could bluff his way through; it had been a fairly effective tactic for most of his life. "Is that any way to greet your new roommate?" His voice was a little hoarse from screaming, but maybe it made him sound a little tougher than he actually was, he thought hopefully. Christian Bale seemed convinced that was true.

The wolf was definitely moving. As Stiles' heart thudded against his ribs, it crept slowly into the room, where it wasn't quite as dark. Seeing what he was up against didn't make Stiles feel any better. It was a male, dark-haired and moving on all fours, big and muscular and mean-looking, shifted into beta form.

When the wolf moved into the shaft of faint moonlight coming through the window, Stiles could see he was wearing only a pair of jeans, and had a thick collar around his throat. Like he was someone's pet, though it was more likely he was someone's weapon, given the hostility and aggression radiating from him. Stiles couldn't think of any other reason someone would put a collar on a werewolf, and this one was a picture of barely restrained violence as he advanced on Stiles, claws clicking against the wood floor, growl still rolling from his throat.

"I promise I won't drink the last of the milk and put the carton back in the fridge," Stiles said, as the wolf paused barely a foot away from him and tilted his head, nostrils flaring. "Just leave my porn alone, and we'll be cool. Okay?"

The wolf abruptly stopped growling.

"And I'm totally fine with you having people over," Stiles went on, because, unbelievably, this seemed to be working. "We can work out a system, leave a sock on the door or something. Except neither of us have any socks." The wolf huffed, like he thought that was kind of funny. Or maybe he was just irritated, Stiles couldn't really tell.

He had a couple more great one-liners queued up, but they backed up in his scratchy throat when the wolf leaned in and nosed at Stiles' upper arm, where his skin was still stinging from the tincture. Stiles just barely managed to not jerk away, or curl up like a pill bug, both of which seemed like good ideas right then. This wasn't one of the possible reactions he had anticipated from an angry werewolf, but since he was still in one piece, he decided to just roll with it.

The wolf shifted a little closer, and Stiles could feel him breathing through his nose, soft whuffs of damp air tickling Stiles' over-sensitive skin. Was he sniffing him? Trying to decide if he smelled like dinner? Stiles had no idea, until the wolf suddenly made a plaintive sound in his throat, like he knew whatever they'd done to Stiles' arm had hurt him. Unbelievably, it seemed like the wolf was sympathizing with him.

Up close, and with his head craned forward as he continued to nose at Stiles' arm, Stiles could see a dark, crusty line on the skin of the wolf's neck, where the collar met his flesh. With only the moonlight and the faint glow of the wolf's eyes to see by, it was hard to tell for sure, but Stiles was willing to bet cash money it was blood. They'd done something to this wolf, too. Something as bad as what they'd done to Stiles, probably, given the way he was acting. Stiles knew there were things you could do to werewolves that would force them to shift and keep them there against their will. None of those things were pleasant.

The wolf had worked his way up past Stiles' armpit and was now sniffing at his collarbones, whining a little, and before he could tell himself not to, Stiles brought his hand up and petted the back of the wolf's head. Amazingly, he didn't seem to mind, just nudged briefly into the touch before he focused his investigative sniffing on Stiles' other arm. His fangs were so big the bottom ones jutted out of his mouth even when it was closed, like a cartoon werewolf. It was almost comical.

"What'd they do to you, buddy? Huh?" Stiles asked softly, still stroking his hair, which felt kind of dirty but smelled faintly of shampoo, so he couldn't have been here like this too long. The wolf made a sharp, angry sound that Stiles figured wasn't directed at him, but at the people behind this clusterfuckery. "I hear ya," Stiles told him, with a small and humorless laugh. "These guys suck."

Now mostly convinced he wasn't going to get mauled, Stiles relaxed a little and rubbed his way around the wolf's head, even venturing down behind his pointy ears. That must have been a particularly sensitive spot, because the wolf paused in his sniffing long enough to close his eyes and rumble with pleasure, pushing into Stiles' hand like he didn't want him to stop. When he opened his eyes again, they weren't glowing anymore. That was a good sign.

As his hand drifted down the back of the wolf's neck, closer to the collar, Stiles felt a telltale buzzing in his fingers. The collar was magicked, which was probably why the wolf hadn't been able to get it off. Maybe the blood on his neck was from his own claws, evidence of an attempt to tear the collar off and get free. There was no way he wouldn't have tried.

The wolf was now nosing his way under Stiles' jaw, snuffling softly, and Stiles automatically tipped his head back to give him room, which was a big mistake. A new wave of dizziness washed over him, and he knew this time he wasn't going to be able to fight it.

"I'm gonna pass out now," Stiles said thickly, and then he did just that.

~*~

He half-woke sometime later and the moonlight was gone, the room completely dark now, but he could hear forest night sounds, crickets and peeper frogs, and something small scurrying around outside. It was really cold, and he was shivering, and his feet were practically numb.

Stiles groped around on the floor until he found his jacket, then struggled to push it down his body so he could shove his bare feet into the balled up shape of it. When he'd passed out he'd landed half on his sweatshirt, so he squirmed around until he could pull it tight around him and flip the hood up over his pounding head. His teeth wanted to chatter, but he was too exhausted and traumatized to even do that for long, and the pain eventually pulled him back under again.

When he opened his gummy eyes the next time, the sky was just starting to lighten to the gray of dawn and Stiles wasn't shivering anymore. The wolf was a warm, solid wall of comfort at Stiles' back, breathing hot air onto his neck, and Stiles whispered, "Thank you," before he drifted off again.

~*~

When Stiles woke up for real in the morning, the wolf was squatting on the floor next to him, staring at him intently, and wow. He really was impressive. His arms were huge, biceps like softballs, and Stiles could see the long, flexing muscles of his thighs through his jeans. He had the torso of an underwear model, and if all that weren't enough, his human eyes were some kind of incredible gray-green color that Stiles couldn't believe actually existed in someone's face. He couldn't stop himself from wondering what the guy looked like when he wasn't all wolfy.

Unlike his incredibly attractive fellow captive, their cell looked even worse in the daylight, Stiles decided, once he was able to sit up and look around without almost puking. Anxious to do a little reconnaissance, he slowly got to his feet, but he was still unsteady, listing from side to side as the wolf crouched uneasily next to him, making anxious little noises. When Stiles put his hand on the wolf's shoulder, partly to reassure him and partly to keep himself from falling on his face, the wolf pressed against him, letting Stiles lean on him, taking some of his weight, until he felt like he could move on his own.

The cell wasn't technically a cell. They were actually in a freestanding structure that looked like it had started life as a cabin or a cottage, but had since been stripped of almost everything that made it a livable space. The main room was just a big rectangle, and had no furniture in it save one wooden chair.

The glass had been removed from the windows, and thick metal bars put in instead. Stiles got all tingly when he got near them, which explained why the wolf--who had made a go at getting out through one of the windows, if the scratches on the wall and the bars were any indication--hadn't been able to escape. Even werewolf strength was no match for heavily magicked wood and iron.

There were three windows in total in the front room, each on a different wall, and Stiles went to each of them and pressed his forehead between the bars, angling to see as much as he could, but it was the same view from all three: a small overgrown yard, half sun and half shade at this time of day, which abruptly gave way to thick forest, a mix of pine and oak, that could have been anywhere near Beacon Hills. Though the place looked like it hadn't seen much care recently, someone must have maintained the lawn at one point, to keep the woods from encroaching; the line between grass and forest was too straight to be natural.

He decided to try his luck with the door, which was unlocked and swung open easily, revealing a small wooden porch and three rickety steps leading down to the yard. There was the faintest of paths going directly away from the cabin and disappearing into the woods, long grass crushed recently by feet, which told Stiles no one had been here for some time before this.

The magic tingle was even stronger here, and when he focused on it, about six inches in front of his face Stiles could see the opalescent shimmer of a magicked barrier. Someone had also taken the precaution of laying down a line of mountain ash across the threshold, which wouldn't stop Stiles but would definitely keep the wolf from going over it. Not that it made any difference, with the barrier right there.

With his powers and the right supplies, Stiles could have definitely broken the ash line, and possibly taken down the barrier wall, too. In his current condition, there was nothing he could do. He closed the door and continued his exploration, the wolf tagging along at his heels.

One corner of the main room had obviously been a kitchen, and there were still marks on the floor where appliances had been at one time, but they'd been removed. Even the drawers, and the doors on the kitchen cabinets, even the light fixtureswere gone. They'd taken everything but the kitchen sink.

Actually, no. They'd taken that, too.

There was small pile of magazines on the kitchen counter, an eclectic mix of celebrity gossip, women's fitness, and guns. Stiles supposed that was intended to be his entertainment.

Down a short hallway off the back of the room was a bathroom with a sink and a toilet in it, an unopened package of toilet paper sitting on top of the tank, a towel and washcloth hanging from a bar on the wall. There was nothing but a wrecked rectangle of floor where a bathtub had been. Seeing the sink made Stiles realize he was desperately thirsty, and he nearly sobbed with relief when he turned the faucet on and water rushed out of it.

He cupped his hands and drank again and again, the cold water heavenly on his parched tongue and his aching throat. It tasted faintly of iron, the way clean well water did sometimes, and it was delicious. After a moment, the wolf shoved his way in, putting his mouth under the stream and drinking for a long, long time. Stiles wondered how long he'd been without water, if he remembered how to work a faucet in this state, or if he'd been thirsty the whole time.

When he'd had his fill, the wolf dropped back down to all fours and shook himself like a dog, sending droplets of water flying. Then he rubbed his wet chin on his shoulder and waited patiently while Stiles rinsed his face and hands, and dried off with the towel, which was obviously brand new. It was stiff as a board and still had the tag on it.

There was no mirror in the bathroom, so Stiles stripped off his sweatshirt and examined his arms without the benefit of his reflection. In the daylight his skin was still stained a deep purple, and his tattoos had all turned a dull gray, regardless of what color they'd been originally. He ran his finger over the raven on the tender underside of his forearm, painful as hell when he got it, and one of his favorites. It looked flat and dead now, like all the rest, the magic in them muted and inaccessible to him.

The wolf came forward, curious, and sniffed at the raven, then nuzzled it a little. Stiles let him do it for a few seconds, but he pulled his arm away and slid his sweatshirt back on before he started freaking out completely over what had been done to him.

There was only one other room, opposite the bathroom. It was the bedroom, Stiles supposed, if the bare mattress on the floor was anything to go by. He was momentarily aggravated to remember he'd spent the night huddled on the hardwood floor in the front room when he could have been in here at least marginally more comfortable, but he was mainly too grateful to work up any real anger about it. He eased himself down onto the bed with a groan, bellyful of water sloshing unpleasantly, and passed out again.

The wolf was on the bed next to him when Stiles woke up, but stretched out on his side facing the other way. In all the dizziness and near puking, Stiles had failed to notice that he had a tattoo on his back, a beautiful black triskelion between his shoulder blades. It was likely his pack symbol, and seemed vaguely familiar, but Stiles couldn't connect a name to it, which meant he probably wasn't local. He was an alpha, though, so no matter where he was from, his pack would be desperate to find him.

The last thing Stiles remembered was being on the way to meet Scott and Allison for pizza; when he hadn't shown up or answered his phone, they would have known something was really wrong, and called Stiles' dad, plus Lydia, and probably Danny, too. Stiles' dad knew all about the freaky supernatural shit Stiles was into, and made a good go-between whenever something Scott and Stiles were mixed up in necessitated the involvement of law enforcement. With the wolf's pack, Stiles' friends, and the real, actual law looking for them, they might make it out of this yet. All they had to do was stay alive until then.

The sun was streaming through the window above the bed, pleasantly warm, and the wolf was sleeping right in the golden glow of it, his body striped with shadows from the bars on the window. It was actually quite a picture, if Stiles put aside the fact that they were being held captive for unknown but likely nefarious reasons. The wolf's back was as pleasingly muscular as the rest of him, narrowing to the slight dip of his waist, the narrow ridge of muscle above his hipbone just barely visible from this angle. Normally, Stiles would have been thrilled to wake up to this kind of view. Sadly, normal things didn't happen to Stiles, like, ever.

But it was nice, for the moment, to lie in the sun and appreciate the rise and fall of the wolf's ribs as he breathed, and the way his jeans stretched over the backs of his thighs. While he was appreciating, Stiles noticed there was something in his back pocket, a slightly raised rectangle where the pocket should have been smooth and flat.

Stiles had realized right away this morning that they'd taken everything away from him before they locked him in here: his phone, his wallet, his keys, his watch, the various mystical things he always had crammed in his pockets. But Stiles had been out cold and depowered--it was a given that dealing with an enraged alpha werewolf wouldn't be quite as easy. Just getting the collar on him had to have been nearly impossible. Maybe they'd skipped the strip search.

The wolf moved when Stiles sat up, rolling over and pulling himself into a crouch as he yawned big and loud, looking a little like a lion at the zoo with his hooded eyes and his mouth full of sharp teeth. He blinked sleepily at Stiles in a way that was almost cute, so Stiles didn't think twice before he reached out and said, "Hey, can I see—"

The wolf shied away with a warning growl.

Stiles quickly held his hands up, showing he was harmless. "Okay, then. Just because we shared some midnight cuddles doesn't mean you trust me. I get it," he said. He didn't completely trust the wolf, either, so he wasn't offended. "I just want to see what you've got in your pocket," he explained. "Okay?"

The wolf narrowed his eyes at him and appeared to consider it for a moment before he slowly inched a little closer and let out a breath that sounded suspiciously like a put-upon sigh. All signs Stiles took to mean, Fine, go ahead.

Stiles shifted up onto his knees and cautiously put his arm out again, and this time the wolf turned a bit so Stiles could reach into his back pocket. He crouched stiffly on the mattress, eyes on Stiles the whole time, while Stiles eased his fingers into his pocket and came out with a money clip. It was some kind of burnished golden metal, with an H inscribed on it in bold font. It held a couple twenty dollar bills and a driver's license.

"Wow, you're kind of hot," Stiles blurted, when he looked at the photo. The wolf whuffed at him, pleased or amused, Stiles couldn't tell. Stiles got so distracted staring at the sculpted cheekbones and the scruffy jawline in the photo that it took him a second to remember he was supposed to be detecting stuff. He looked from the picture on the license to the wolf crouched in front of him and yeah, definitely the same guy. Even under the fangs and the pointy ears and everything else, it was definitely the same guy.

His name was…Derek Hale.

"Oh. My. God," Stiles said, flabbergasted. The wolf was local. He was very local. He was Derek freakin' Hale. That was where Stiles had seen the triskelion before—one of Deaton's history books. Stiles knew all about the Hale pack, even though most of them had died when he was just a kid. Derek and his sister--Laura? Stiles was pretty sure her name was Laura—and his uncle were the last three living members, but as far as Stiles knew they'd all moved to New York after the fire that killed everyone else.

This was like meeting a legend. A tragic legend, Stiles reminded himself, before he got too gleeful about it.

On the heels of this discovery, though, came a heart-sinking realization: there was likely no big, organized pack out looking for Derek. If they'd managed to rebuild to that level, word would have gotten out, they would have been known. And the last Stiles had heard, the uncle had been the alpha. If Derek was the alpha now, that meant either he had challenged his uncle for it and won, or he'd inherited it when his uncle died. Those two things were not mutually exclusive.

Even if his uncle were dead, maybe Laura was still around. Maybe there was at least one werewolf who called Derek alpha. At least one. And maybe that wolf was looking for him.

Derek was watching him, flexing his claws nervously against the mattress. Stiles' reaction was confusing him, maybe, so Stiles put his disappointment aside and smiled at him.

"Derek Hale," he said, and Derek obviously recognized that as his name; he made a happy sound and bumped his head against Stiles' shoulder, knocking Stiles over onto his butt. "Yeah, nice to meet you, too, Derek. Nice to meet you, too."

~*~

Everything Stiles had learned so far required some time to digest, and do some strategizing, but he was still feeling like he'd been run over by a bus while suffering from both the flu and a heavy duty case of sunburn. He didn't get much strategizing done.

Instead, he slept most of the day, getting up a few times to wobble into the bathroom for more water, though it only got rid of the disgusting taste in his mouth for a few minutes at a time. Sometimes when he woke up Derek was there with him, other times he wasn't, but he always appeared in the doorway as soon as Stiles started moving around, and followed him back and forth across the hallway as if worried Stiles were somehow going to collapse or get lost during that short trip.

Dusk had just started to fall, the woods turning raucous with the sounds of the birds cheeping at each other as they settled down to roost for the night, when Derek suddenly went nuts, charging into the front room and snarling more aggressively than Stiles had heard him so far. When Stiles got up and plodded after him, not sure he even wanted to know what the hell was going on now, he found Derek crouched in front of the door, body stiff and tensed to spring, all his hair standing on end.

Then Stiles heard it, too. Someone was coming.

First it was just the faint sound of male voices in the distance, and careless feet kicking through dead leaves on the forest floor, obviously not worried about anyone knowing they were out here. Stiles was tempted to try to get their attention, to yell for help, but Derek's reaction suggested whoever was out there wasn't going to be much help; it felt like Derek knew who it was, and didn't want them here.

When the footsteps got closer there was a pause, and one voice picked up again, all by itself. It was just a faint murmur, but the cadence and intonation were familiar enough that Stiles knew the guy was reciting a spell, even if he couldn't make out the exact words. When the voice finally went quiet, Stiles' neck prickled and he felt the phantom sensation of cold water running down his back, which was what dispersed magic always felt like to him. That had to mean their visitors had lowered the barrier around the cabin.

Derek's agitation only grew as feet plodded heavily up the porch steps, and as soon as the door swung inward he threw himself at the opening, only to bounce off the invisible mountain ash boundary with a pained yelp. The two men standing in the doorway didn't even flinch, but the one on the right did a very obvious double-take when he saw Stiles. Stiles lifted a hand and waved at the guy, who looked like a younger, pudgier Geraldo Rivera, and was carrying an armload of fast food bags.

The other guy had a sharp, hatchet face and a scraggly beard, and was carrying a gun. He kept it aimed at Stiles even as Derek rolled to his feet and snarled at him, showing a whole lot of pointy teeth. Stiles was the one who could just step right over the ash line if he wanted.

"What the fuck is he doing in there?" Geraldo asked the hatchet faced guy, gesturing at Stiles. "And why the fuck didn't Cujo kill him?" People always went for the Cujo line. It was so predictable.

At the mention of killing, Derek let out a deep, warning growl and darted sideways across the floor, planting himself squarely between Stiles and their visitors. Stiles was oddly touched.

"The old man told me to put him here," Hatchet Face said, a little defensively, but he looked worried, like he already knew he was in trouble.

The old man, Stiles thought. Someone who was in charge, who was not these two guys. They were just toadies.

Geraldo gave Hatchet Face a disgusted look. "He said the north cabin, you dumbass."

"This is the north cabin!" Hatchet Face protested, then ducked away when Geraldo reached up to swat him on the back of the head.

"This is the east cabin. Don't you have a fucking compass on your phone? You're on it all the time, you'd think--"

"Uh, hey, excuse me?" Stiles interrupted. Both toadies looked at him like they'd forgotten he was there. "I can tell you're having a really important argument and stuff, but I'm kind of curious to know why the hell you kidnapped me and are holding me hostage?"

"How come he didn't kill you?" Geraldo asked suspiciously, ignoring what Stiles felt was a perfectly justified question. "He almost killed two of our guys when we caught him, even after we shot him up with wolfsbane."

Well, that was an important clue, and Stiles didn't know if Geraldo was even aware he'd given something away. They'd shot Derek full of wolfsbane to capture him, but then they'd cured him. Which meant they needed to keep him alive for some other purpose. Which probably meant they needed Stiles for some other purpose, too.

"I'm really likeable," Stiles shrugged, hoping empty conversation would deflect everyone's attention away from that interesting tidbit of information. "Loveable, even. I'm like catnip for werewolves. Wolfnip, you could call it. I'm sort of popular with the full moon crowd." He shoved his hands in his pants pockets and gave the toadies a smug smile.

Hatchet Face's eyes were already starting to glaze over. Geraldo had had enough of Stiles' bullshit, too. He tossed the fast food bags into the cabin, and as soon as they landed on the floor Stiles realized he was starving. Derek didn't give the food a second glance, focused like a laser on the toadies, growling softly every time one of them looked at him.

"We'll be back later to move you," Geraldo said to Stiles, and Derek went fucking nuts again, charging the door with such ferocity that both guys took a step back this time. "Or maybe not," Geraldo amended as Derek planted his claws right at the edge of the ash line and hissed at them, showing his fangs. "If he likes you so much. Saves us a trip to the other cabin to feed you, anyway."

Stiles clucked scoldingly at Geraldo. "Such laziness," he said, shaking his head, but he was actually relieved he was wavering on separating them. Derek was apparently non-verbal and stuck in beta form, but he was still an ally, and a freakishly strong and durable one. Their chances were better together. "I'm assuming this is the kind of go-getter attitude that lands one a job as someone else's minion."

"Fuck off," Geraldo said, scowling, and walked away without closing the door, which would have necessitated reaching over the mountain ash line and right into Derek's snarling maw. Hatchet Face backed up slowly, keeping his gun trained on Stiles, in case he tried to make a break for it.

Geraldo clomped down the porch steps and out into the yard, where he paused to mumble his way through the spell to restore the barrier. So he was in charge of the magic, which didn't surprise Stiles, because Hatchet Face seemed the dimmer of those two bulbs.

Stiles actually felt the barrier snap back into place, a soft whoomp in his belly, like going over the top of a rollercoaster, and for a moment he missed his magic so badly, felt so lost and empty without it, that it robbed all the breath from his lungs. He concentrated on watching Geraldo and his buddy cross the small yard, already arguing again about which cabin was the north one as they headed for the tree line.

When it was clear they really were leaving, Stiles stepped forward and shooed Derek out of the way so he could close the door. Derek moved aside with obvious reluctance, and kept his eyes on the toadies as long as he could, until Stiles practically closed the door on his nose, and then, just to be an asshole, locked it. Next time, the toadies would have to wait for Stiles to open the door for them.

So now Stiles knew two more very valuable pieces of information they could use to their advantage, the first being that the dickheads keeping them captive had to drop the barrier to deliver food. More importantly, they didn't restore it until they left. It had been down the entire time they'd been standing in the doorway.

Derek launched himself pointlessly at the closed door again, leaving long claw marks in the wood, as the guys' footsteps retreated back into the woods, but Stiles went for the food bags, the smell of salt and grease making his stomach gurgle and his mouth water. He sat down on the floor under one of the windows and emptied the bags—there were four of them—one by one, as Derek raged at the door.

"Hey, buddy, they're gone. Let's eat," Stiles coaxed. Derek snorted angrily and then growled at the door one more time before he stalked over to hunker next to Stiles, all ruffled dignity. Stiles unwrapped what turned out to be a cheeseburger and took an enormous bite, then shoved a couple onion rings into his face, too. Derek leaned against his shoulder, making a yearning noise, rather than grabbing something for himself, so Stiles held the burger out, and Derek took a bite, chewing somewhat awkwardly around his huge fangs, but his eyes closed for a second as if in bliss and he made a sound that in another situation could have been considered a moan.

Stiles took another bite, then held it out for Derek again, who this time took the whole thing from him, claws making little dents in the bun. The next sandwich Stiles picked was chicken, and by the time he got it unwrapped, Derek had already devoured the rest of the burger and was giving the chicken a hungry look, so they shared that, too.

The bags contained a good selection of different stuff, and they worked their way through it pretty quickly, both of them ravenous. Derek liked the chicken sandwiches best, turned up his nose at the onion rings completely, and only ate half his share of fries before spurning those, too. He obviously loved bacon, though, so Stiles picked it off both bacon cheeseburgers and gave it to him, the ultimate act of generosity. Neither of them was interested in the fish sandwich.

They weren't able to finish it all, so Stiles wrapped up what was left and put it on the kitchen counter, realizing belatedly that maybe they should have rationed it out better. This was the only food they'd been given all day long, which probably explained why it was so much. Maybe it was supposed to last until this time tomorrow, or even longer. Nothing to be done about it now, though.

Belly full, body still aching all over, it didn't take long for Stiles to start feeling sleepy. It wasn't even full dark yet when he slumped onto the mattress again and drifted off with his jacket over his chilly feet. He only woke once before morning, when he heard Derek creep into the room and onto the bed, felt him shuffle close and curl himself around Stiles, a small bit of welcome companionship to carry him through the night.

~*~

Derek was already awake, prowling back and forth in front of the kitchen counter, sniffing hopefully at the rest of the food, when Stiles got himself upright and moving the next morning. They split the last of the sandwiches, and Derek seemed to like the fries better now that they were cold and congealed, which was just so wrong. Stiles tossed the unwanted fish sandwich out the window, where it ricocheted off the barrier before landing in the overgrown grass.

When they were done eating, Derek sprawled in a dusty patch of sunlight to lick his chops and doze, like a wild predator digesting its kill, if wild predators ate at Jack in the Box.

Now that Stiles' body didn't feel so battered, it was easier to notice that it felt kind of grimy, so he filled the bathroom sink with hot water and stripped down to his underwear. He was wearing a pair of Adventure Time boxer shorts that were a birthday gift from Allison, a dark blue background with pictures of Finn and Jake on them--a boy and his dog on an adventure. When he'd put them on two days ago it had been simply because they were on top of the clean clothes pile, but the choice seemed weirdly poetic now.

Since the day was pleasantly warm and his clothes were covered in fear-sweat stink, he rinsed his T-shirt and pants in the sink as best he could, though it seemed like he mainly succeeded in getting the bathroom floor all wet. Wringing the water out by hand turned out to be a big job, and he wasn't all that good at it, but once they weren't completely sodden anymore he moved the chair in the front room into a sunny spot and draped his clothes over it to dry.

Derek was awake again, and padded along after him on all fours when Stiles went back into the bathroom, watching as Stiles filled the sink a second time and used the washcloth to wipe himself down. There was a scab on Stiles' arm he hadn't noticed before, a small round puncture wound in the thin skin of his forearm. He did his best to wipe around it without pulling it off, and tried not to dwell too much on how he might have gotten it. Who knew what the hell they'd done to him when he'd been unconscious.

The cloth came away from his arms and chest looking generally dirty, without even the slightest hint of purple on it, but he hadn't expected to be able to get the tincture off with plain water or he would have tried it sooner. It had been magicked on, which meant it would take some kind of magic to get it off. Once he'd wiped himself off as best he could, he filled the sink one last time and dipped his head in it and scrubbed at his hair, and then as the water drained held his mouth under the faucet and rubbed his teeth with his finger. They still felt disgustingly fuzzy, but it was the best he could do.

"You want to go next?" Stiles asked optimistically, as he ran the towel over his hair; Derek had moved closer while Stiles was washing up, which was maybe a sign of interest in getting clean himself. "You're starting to get a little ripe, too, you know."

Derek huffed his put-upon acquiescence huff—less than two days and already Stiles recognized it--and hopped up to crouch on the lid of the toilet. Stiles filled the sink again and dropped the washcloth in, but Derek just sat there, blinking serenely, until Stiles figured out he was waiting for Stiles to wash him, too.

"Oh, come on!" Stiles protested. "I'm not your butler! You can wash your own damn self." He wrung the washcloth out and tried to hand it to Derek, but he only glared at the rag, and then made a move like he was going to hop back down to the floor.

"No no no no no!" Stiles said, stepping forward to block him and pressing his hand flat on Derek's shoulder, urging him to stay where he was. "You win, buddy. One sponge bath, coming right up."

Derek slowly turned his head to look pointedly at Stiles' hand on his shoulder. "Right. Taking my hand off," Stiles said quickly, snatching it in close to his body where hopefully it would remain attached to his arm. Derek simply settled back into place, though, like nothing had happened.

"So…do you still want me to…" Stiles ventured, holding up the washcloth. Derek's only response was a flat stare that implied Stiles was so far a really bad butler.

"Okay. You want to, uh, take your pants off?" Stiles asked. Derek tilted his head as if contemplating the question, then braced himself on the sink with one hand and sat up a little straighter, so his belly was exposed, and stared down at his fly. "Or I guess I could do that, too," Stiles sighed, when it became obvious that was probably what was going to happen.

In the end, getting Derek's pants off was a little like a Three Stooges routine minus one Stooge, because Derek didn't seem interested in standing up, or even getting off the toilet, so Stiles had to get his jeans undone and then off his body one leg at a time while Derek got progressively more aggravated with the whole affair.

"Do not snort at me like that, mister," Stiles puffed, when he was just a few inches away from getting the pants free. "I'm doing all the work here. Lift your foot, you asshole."

Derek did, and Stiles gave one last tug. The jeans popped free of his foot and Stiles went down on his butt on the wet floor. Derek shook himself and glared, still balanced lightly on the balls of his feet like he could pounce at any moment, but looking decidedly less intimidating in nothing but a bright purple pair of boxer briefs.

Stiles tossed the jeans aside and got slowly to his feet, rubbing his bruised butt cheek. "Here goes nothing. Don't eat me," he sighed, and went to work.

Up until he started wiping Derek down with the warm washcloth, Stiles had been too distracted and annoyed to really think about what was happening, but as he rubbed the rag over Derek's shoulders, and then his chest, the situation suddenly hit home. It wasn't like Stiles had never seen a naked guy before--thank God--but this wasn't for sex. Sex probably would have been less awkward, actually, and a hundred times less intimate. They didn't even really know each other, and Derek had a pretty amazing body, and also a pretty amazing face in that license photo. Stiles was bathing a hot stranger, and it was kind of weird.

He swished the cloth in the sink again and then wrung it out, mentally bracing himself before wiping off Derek's stomach, which was some kind of peak human fitness miracle, and also really close to Derek's groin. Which Stiles was not thinking about. Nope.

As he dragged the washcloth across the line of hair below Derek's belly button, Derek's whole stomach contracted, pulling tight under his skin until each muscle stood out like a drawing in an anatomy textbook. Stiles had a vision, just a quick flash, of what it would be like to make Derek's belly do that again, but with his tongue instead of a wet rag, and he might have choked on his own spit for a second.

Derek ducked his head so he could look at Stiles' face and made a curious noise. Stiles was so busted.

Deciding it was best to move on to less tempting territory, he took hold of Derek's wrist and straightened his arm so he could scrub it, rotating it to get the underside, too, but that wasn't much better. Even his forearms were attractive, roped with muscle, laced with veins, covered in dark hair. This wasn't helping one bit.

"So, can you not talk, or do you just not want to talk?" Stiles asked, trying to distract them both. In response, Derek jutted his chin out, exposing the collar. "I thought so," Stiles said. "I’m sorry."

Derek didn't respond to that, and there didn't seem to be anything else to say, so Stiles dipped the washcloth again and kept going. Despite his reaction to Stiles' hand on his shoulder a few minutes ago, Derek was surprisingly accepting of being manhandled in the name of cleanliness. Stiles washed his other arm, his back, his legs, and then—very carefully—his hands. His claws had what looked like dried blood and dirt caked under them. Whose blood was anyone's guess.

Derek seemed to appreciate Stiles' efforts, though, closing his eyes and rumbling happily now and then, especially when Stiles scrubbed behind his ears. When all that was done, Stiles got Derek to lean down and brace himself over the sink so he could rinse his hair under the tap, then dried him off as best he could with the already damp towel, rubbing his head a little too enthusiastically, until his hair was sticking up all crazy. He looked like a freshly toweled cat.

The only thing left now was Derek's neck, which Stiles had purposely put off to last. He wet the washcloth again, with fresh, clean water, and then told Derek what he wanted to do before attempting anything, because he wasn't sure if disturbing the collar would make it react in any way, or set off some kind of painful defensive magic response. Derek didn't hesitate to let Stiles touch it, though, just lifted his chin and waited.

The collar was dark brown leather, heavily stitched and engraved with symbols, some Stiles recognized and some he didn't. The first thing Stiles realized was that he had been right—there was blood on Derek's neck. The second thing he realized was that Derek had bled so much--was still bleeding a little--because the inside of the collar was lined with two rows of sharp wooden spikes, and it was on tight enough that they were digging into Derek's neck, keeping the wounds continuously open.

Stiles nearly jerked back in shock, then forced himself to swallow against the urge to gag as he dabbed experimentally at the dried blood. The washcloth came away covered in rusty streaks, and quickly turned the water in the sink the same color. He could feel Derek's eyes on him, but was too unsettled to meet them.

While he moved the washcloth from sink to Derek and back again, the full horror of what he was seeing sank in. He'd had no idea that all this time Derek was being tortured. Werewolves healed freakishly fast, but that didn't mean they didn't feel pain. Every time Derek moved, every time he turned his head, the spikes were digging into his flesh, which had to be constant agony. Stiles had no idea how he managed to sleep with it on. It was a miracle he wasn't fully feral.

There was no kidding himself anymore about their situation. This was cruel and inhumane, and it took a bunch of sick, evil fucks to do this to a living creature. Whatever was in store for Stiles and Derek next, it was going to be really bad.

Stiles' hands wanted to shake, but he forced them to be steady, focusing on carefully wiping Derek's skin clean, trying to clinically examine the collar, see if there was a way to get it off. It didn't take him long to decide that seemed unlikely. It was fastened with a small iron padlock that was so heavily protected it actually gave Stiles a small shock when he touched it, and there were numerous gouges in the leather itself, deep claw marks, where Derek had tried to get free of it. Ordinary leather would have come apart like paper under a werewolf's claws; there was obviously really strong protective magic at work on the entire thing.

The wooden spikes were likely made from black locust, if Stiles had to guess. It would prevent Derek from shifting, so he was stuck in whatever form he'd been in when they put it on him. The moon was still young, and Stiles didn't think Derek had been here long, which meant they'd probably captured him on the new moon, when werewolves tended to be at their least wild.

The black locust didn't explain why he was non-verbal, though, or why he moved on all fours all the time, and insisted on crouching instead of sitting. Even werewolves in beta shift were still predominantly human. It was like something was suppressing Derek's human side—another form of dampening, like what they'd done to Stiles. That had to be the work of the symbols carved into the leather.

Stiles tried to clean up all the blood as best he could, but after a while it became a vicious circle, because even moving the collar a little bit dug the spikes into Derek's neck more, sending fresh trickles of blood running down his chest and back. Derek sat stoically through the whole thing, even though it had to be painful, letting Stiles do what he wanted, which only made Stiles feel guilty for hurting him.

"I'm sorry," he said softly, and carefully wiped the fresh blood away as best he could without bumping the collar again. Derek chuffed at him, which Stiles took to mean his apology was accepted, and then sweetly dipped his head to lick at the inside of Stiles' wrist, telling Stiles it was okay with warm, soft drags of his tongue.

~*~

Sadly, Stiles was still so weak that after bath time he needed a nap, so he pulled his sweatshirt on and curled up for a snooze. When he woke up in what seemed like late afternoon, based on the angle of the sun, he felt a lot better. His head was clearer, and he didn't feel nearly as shaky, so whatever they'd done to him was finally wearing off. Derek was on the bed with him again, close but not touching, though he got up and left the room as soon as Stiles started to stir.

Now that he was more with it, Stiles decided it was time to go over every inch of the place, looking for anything he could find that might be a clue, or something he could use to escape. They'd thrown him in here with only the clothes on his back, but it didn't have to stay that way.

The entire cabin had been pretty thoroughly cleaned out, but Stiles was nothing if not meticulous when properly motivated. Within minutes he'd found a paperclip stuck between the floor and the wall, and a small bit of pink eraser hidden half under the threshold.

Derek watched for a while, then wandered off to the bedroom, possibly so bored he had decided to take another nap. Instead, he surprised Stiles by coming back a few minutes later, radiating an obvious air of excitement when he opened his hand and proudly presented Stiles with a rubber band—as wide as Stiles' thumb and still stretchy—and a tiny pearl earring.

"Did you just find these? In the bedroom?" Stiles asked, and Derek whuffed happily, and then preened a little when Stiles set them on the seat of the chair with the paperclip and eraser, saying, "Good job, dude."

After that things really picked up, because Derek had the added advantage of a werewolf nose. They went over every inch of what Stiles charitably thought of as their living room, which was really just a big space with nothing in it, where they found a safety pin and two unpopped popcorn kernels.

The kitchen cupboards, though, were a treasure trove, yielding a cracked spork, and a small pile of spilled salt that Stiles carefully pinched up into a little packet he folded from one the magazine subscription cards. There was a loose nail in one of the floorboards where the stove had been, which Derek was able to pull out easily. Derek also sniffed out an old packet of taco seasoning that had fallen down behind the counter top and gotten wedged.

The bathroom was a bust, even though Stiles checked inside the toilet tank and everything. It was probably too much to expect to find a gun wrapped in plastic, like in the movies. He would have settled for a map of the surrounding area with a big black X labeled YOU ARE HERE, but he didn’t get that, either.

Derek had already checked the bedroom itself, but when they got to the closet, he flattened himself nearly to the floor, nose twitching, and then Stiles watched in amazement as he hooked his claws under the edge of one of the boards and pulled it right out. For a second Stiles thought they were free, that Derek had found a secret tunnel that would take them out of this place, but instead it was...cigars.

There was a small secret compartment under the floor, something someone had taken the time to build, because it was lined with pieces of wood cut to the exact size and shape of the hole. In addition to a half-empty box of cigars, it held a little carton of wooden strike anywhere matches with about six matches left in it. Someone hadn't wanted someone else to know they were smoking, Stiles figured. His dad always hid his cigars, too, like Stiles wouldn't know from the smell on his clothes.

The cigars were one thing, but the matches were an extremely lucky find, more than Stiles had dared hope for; access to fire changed the odds considerably. And that had been all Derek.

"This is awesome, buddy. I never would have found this on my own," Stiles told him, patting him on the back. Derek responded by headbutting Stiles in the face, but in a friendly way.

The hidey hole was also the perfect place to stash all their stuff. Though it didn't seem likely anyone was going to actually come inside the cabin, if the food delivery last night had been any indication, he had no doubt that if the toadies figured out he was collecting stuff it would be confiscated. He put the cigars and the matches back, and then piled all their newfound booty on top before he replaced the board.

The only thing left to check was the shelf in the closet, just a board nailed to the wall, really, so Stiles got the chair and climbed up to scope it out. There was nothing up there but dust and a dead moth—which he carefully scooped up—but when he turned his head so he was looking at the wall above the door he found three letters—initials?--carved into the plaster: PDH.

Beside it was a series of hash marks, grouped in the familiar sets of five people used when they were keeping track of something. Next to it was another set of initials--LMH--and more hash marks. The second set was gouged deeper, and looked more recent, which Stiles guessed meant they were carved by a different person at a different time.

Someone else had been here—two someones--and kept track of how many days they were held hostage. It seemed highly unlikely they'd escaped or been released. This was so bad.

Stiles got Derek to hand him up his money clip, which Derek did with only the slightest tinge of suspicion, and used the edge of it to carve his own initials into the wall, and then Derek's. Beneath them he added two hash marks.

It wasn't until he handed Derek's money clip back to him—which Derek sniffed as if inspecting it for damage before shoving it back in his pocket--that Stiles thought to count the other sets of hash marks. Both had exactly twenty-eight lines.

Whatever was going to happen to them, they had twenty-six days to figure out how to get out of here before it did.

~*~

Now that he wasn't sleeping constantly, Stiles found himself left with a lot more hours to fill than the previous day. After staring out each of the windows for a while at pretty much nothing but grass and trees and chipmunks, he finally admitted defeat and shuffled through the pile of magazines. None of them were of much interest to him, so he randomly picked the women's fitness one that promised to show him sixteen moves to tighten his butt.

For a second he really, really wished Scott were here, because Stiles would no doubt have laughed at at least four of the six jokes that immediately came to mind. And probably made a few of his own.

It was probably best not to start down that depressing mental path, so he took the magazine into the bedroom where he got comfortable on the mattress, propping himself up against the wall under the window and opening the magazine with a snap. Determined to make every page last as long as possible, he started with the table of contents and continued on thoroughly from there, even reading the fine print on the ads. Even so, it wasn't long before he was two or three articles in, and had already learned a lot about the mysteries of sports bras and waterproof mascara.

Derek spent the time wandering restlessly between the bedroom and living room, and once came up and nosed at Stiles' arm. Eventually, Stiles started to feel like kind of a dick for sitting around reading and leaving Derek to his own devices.

"Come here," he said finally, patting the mattress next to him, and that was how Stiles ended up with Derek's head pillowed on his thigh, stroking his fingers through Derek's hair while he read out loud to him.

"You like that, huh?" Stiles asked, looking down at Derek as he scratched his wolfy temple lightly with his fingers. Derek rumbled and bumped at Stiles' stomach with his forehead, then went back to the job of being petted. "I'm gonna assume that's a yes."

It was kind of nice for Stiles, too, actually. Soothing, like petting a cat or a dog, which was probably not a nice thing to think about Derek, but since they were both enjoying it, he decided not to beat himself up over it. For Derek, it was probably a welcome distraction from the spikes on the collar, which Stiles was having a hard time not thinking about, because he could feel the band of leather pressing against his leg. Derek didn't seem to care, but that didn't mean it didn't hurt. Stiles quickly turned the page and went back to reading so he wouldn't picture the way the spikes dug into Derek's throat every time he swallowed.

"'These new workout-friendly hairstyles will have you turning heads in a flash,'" he read out loud. He'd had no idea women had workout-specific hairstyles other than ponytails. He paused and looked down at Derek, whose eyes were only about half open. He was really enjoying the head rub.

"I bet you work out a lot, don't you?" Stiles asked him. "When you're in your human form. You definitely look like you do. I mean, your abs are—" Stiles snapped his mouth shut when he noticed Derek's eyes were open all the way now, watching him. "Definitely good abs. For strength and stuff," he finished inanely.

Derek turned his head enough to nuzzle at Stiles' forearm, then settled again. Stiles had no idea what that meant.

"Anyway," he said, flipping to the next page, because he hadn't yet lowered himself to describing photos of ladies' hairstyles. "'If you're experiencing scaliness, your skin is sending you an SOS. It's so inflamed that the cells are lifting, which results in peeling,'" he read, then added, "Ugh, gross. That reminds me of this guy I went to high school with, Jackson. One day he just turned into a lizard. A full-on lizard!"

Derek made a noise that might have indicated surprise, or maybe disbelief.

"I know, right?" Stiles said, as Derek's soft hair slipped through his fingers over and over. "And then he almost killed someone, and then his parents sent him to boarding school for reptiles or something, I dunno. He was gone the next year. I wonder what happened to that guy."

~*~

The impending arrival of the toadies was once again foretold by Derek suddenly going apeshit at dusk.

Stiles watched them through the window as they emerged from the woods. Geraldo was back, with more bags of food, but Hatchet Face had been replaced—likely due to incompetence—by a short, wide-shouldered guy with a shaved head who looked both smarter and meaner than Hatchet Face. He was carrying a crossbow and an obvious chip on his shoulder.

The bald guy stood with the crossbow aimed squarely at the cabin door as Geraldo took down the barrier. Stiles strained his ears to try to hear the spell, but it was no use. He was too far away and Geraldo was keeping his voice down, so he wasn't completely dumb. Derek could likely hear it clearly, but a fat lot of good that did.

Derek's fury ratcheted up a notch as the toadies climbed the porch steps, and the bald guy scowled. "Jesus, that thing's gonna alert the whole county. The old man's gonna shit a brick if he can't get it done this time," he said. He had a voice like someone who had cigarettes and sandpaper for breakfast every morning.

"Nah, it's fine," Geraldo said. "When the wall's up nothing can get out, even sound. That's why you didn't hear him until I took it down." Then he tried the doorknob, found it locked, and shouted, "Very funny, you little shit. Open the door if you wanna eat."

"Look, dear, we have company," Stiles said sweetly when he opened the door. Derek came forward and crouched next to him, shoulder pressed against Stiles' thigh. Stiles could literally feel him growling. "I should have fluffed the couch cushions. Oh, wait. We don't have a couch."

"This guy thinks he's a comedian," the bald guy said to Geraldo.

"Looks like he's still in one piece anyway," Geraldo observed, in a tone that implied he was relieved that was the case. Interesting. His eyes flicked to Derek, who was still practically frothing at the mouth. He didn't comment on the fact that they were both in their underwear, but he asked Stiles, "You doin' okay in there?"

"Sure!" Stiles said brightly. "You kidnapped me, took away my magic, and locked me up with a feral werewolf, so I'm just fine. Couldn’t be better!"

"Kid's got a mouth on him," the bald guy said, and then spat a stream of tobacco juice onto the porch.

"I'm twenty-two," Stiles said, rolling his eyes. "I know I've got this precious baby face," he said, waving a hand in front of his face, "But come on. Full grown man, here. Though I've been told I do have a mouth. A pretty one, even."

"You keep talking and I'll punch your pretty mouth in for you," the bald guy said nastily, and Derek's growl turned into a snarl. He would probably have beaten himself against the ash line again if Stiles hadn't dropped his hand to Derek's shoulder and given him a little squeeze until he subsided. Stiles felt almost as surprised as the toadies looked when it actually worked.

"Speaking of mouths," Stiles said, "any chance I could get a toothbrush? Maybe some soap? Things are getting a little dire around here." He didn't have much hope of getting anything, but it couldn’t hurt to ask.

"Lookit this guy, thinks he's at a hotel," the bald guy said.

Geraldo said, "We'll see," and tossed the food on the floor at Stiles' feet and walked away, the bald guy standing guard at the door until he could recite the spell.

A few seconds later the barrier came back up, and with it any chance someone would hear them. Stiles had hoped that if anyone got close enough they could yell for help, but that wasn't going to happen. It was also safe to assume the barrier would block any locator spells, so unless Deaton did one at the exact time the barrier was down, he'd get nothing. Until someone walked right up to the cabin and saw them in here, they were practically invisible.

And if the old man had gone that far, he would have covered any scent trails, too. That was an easy enough spell, one Stiles himself had used on several occasions. It was likely their scents went cold at or close to the spots where they'd been taken. Not even a werewolf could track someone through a masking spell.

As disappointing as that realization was, a few minutes later there was a positive development. When Stiles sat down and went through the bags, one of them had a few coins in it, like whoever had picked up the food had thrown the change in the bag at the drive-thru and then either forgotten it or missed the two pennies floating around the bottom. Stiles put them aside and handed Derek a chicken sandwich.

After they ate, Stiles tore a small piece off one of the bags and made a little envelope for the pennies, and carefully added them to the hidey hole, setting them on top of the packet of salt he'd made earlier.

Salt and copper. Things were looking better all the time.

~*~

As darkness fell that night, Stiles and Derek sat side by side on the floor in the front room and watched the crescent moon rise in the window, until they were both bathed in its faint silver glow.

"We need to figure out a way to get out of here," Stiles said. When Derek made a small sound of agreement and shifted restlessly against Stiles' shoulder, he added, "We've got some time to think up a plan. We just need to be patient. I know we can do it, though."

Derek leaned closer and bumped his head against Stiles', which Stiles took to mean Derek thought they could do it, too. Stiles reached up and gave him a couple pats until Derek settled back at his side, and they sat together in companionable silence.

Even though he'd kept it to himself, Stiles had actually been a little worried the toadies would try to move him when they brought the food, and he was glad they'd apparently dropped the idea. Stiles could barely stand to imagine being locked up by himself, how lonely it would be, and how he'd probably drive himself crazy obsessing over how to get out. Derek wasn't much of a conversationalist, but he kept Stiles occupied, and made it easier to stay calm and focused. He was the only reason this was bearable.

Pleasant as it was to sit with Derek in the moonlight, hanging out on the cold floor all night wasn't something Stiles was interested in, so eventually he stood up and dusted off his butt. He could feel Derek's eyes on him, so he said, "You coming?" and Derek must have been waiting for an invitation because he followed right along into the bedroom rather than waiting until Stiles was asleep to join him, as he had every other time.

Once they were both on the mattress, Derek laid down a careful distance away until Stiles said, "Come here, it's okay," and then he cuddled right up to him and fell asleep before Stiles did.

~*~

The next morning, Stiles, aware that he had a lot of time to kill—and maybe inspired by yesterday's reading—decided it would be a good idea to start a fitness regimen. It was possible getting out of here was going to require some running, maybe even some fighting, and he couldn't afford to sit around and eat junk food the whole time. If his theory was right--and Stiles' theories often were--they probably had a couple weeks here, and he was going to Sarah Connor the shit out of them.

Back in high school, Coach Finstock had believed in old school fitness instead of fancy exercise machines, so Stiles knew how to work out without even a set of dumbbells. Running was out of the question, except in laps around the front room, but he could do jumping jacks, and lunges, and fast feet. Once he'd done all those he spent a few minutes jumping an imaginary rope, then switched to high knees. After that, he did some push-ups and burpees, then some sit-ups, and finally hung from the doorframe in the hallway and cranked out some pull-ups.

He tried to encourage Derek to join him, but that went over like a lead balloon. Derek apparently felt that mornings were for lazing in the sun.

By the time he had run through every exercise three times, his arms and legs felt like noodles, so he considered it a job well done. Now that he was hot and sweaty it was bath time again, which was a little less awkward and a little more efficient now that Stiles had some experience and was prepared for the majesty of Derek's stomach. Since their clothes were finally dry, Stiles decided to wash their unmentionables, which he'd skipped the day before for propriety's sake.

Derek didn't object when Stiles explained it to him, and he managed to swap Derek's underwear for his pants with only a modicum of embarrassment, though he'd happily live the rest of his life without ever having to navigate a zipper around another dude's junk for purposes that didn't involve getting laid.

Derek was not shy about stripping at all, and from what Stiles saw—he was trying not to stare, honest---he had no reason to be. The genetic lottery had indeed been kind to Derek Hale. Stiles was, all modestly aside, not so bad himself, and since Derek's attitude towards nudity seemed to be a resounding, Eh, whatever, Stiles decided to treat bath time like the high school locker room, where being naked was just business. Though he'd never had to actually bathe Scott or Danny, thank God for that.

Once they were both back in their clothes—Stiles had never liked the weirdness of going commando, but Derek seemed as unbothered by that as he was most other things—their underwear drying in the sun, Stiles opened up the hidey hole again. He took out all the scavenged stuff and laid it out on the mattress, forming a slightly crooked semi-circle around his knees, and stared at it until his gaze softened and his mind could sort of float around and do its thing.

Sadly, his mind's thing turned out to be a big resounding blank, but he wasn't too worried yet. They still had a few weeks, and sometimes it took a while for a solution to come to him. So far in his life, Stiles had never failed to come up with an idea if his ass—or the ass of someone he cared about—was on the line. He could be patient.

The afternoon was again devoted to reading and Derek petting, and when Derek dozed off in the middle of an article about the Menudo reunion tour, Stiles eased himself down to snuggle against his warm body and nap for a bit, too.

The arrival of the food brought Derek's usual diligent defense of the door, and also a surprise. Along with the bags of burgers, Geraldo chucked in a crumpled plastic shopping bag from CVS. Inside was a goddamn bounty.

It contained not just a toothbrush and paste, but a whole bunch of other things Stiles hadn't even asked for. Some of it had been purchased, and some of it was stuff collected from motel rooms, like little bottles of shampoo and conditioner and lotion, and tiny bars of flowery soap that made Derek sneeze. Unsurprisingly, there was no razor, but Stiles could go weeks without growing any kind of significant facial hair, and Derek, despite the aggressive stubble in his license photo, had so far remained unchanged in this form as far as facial hair went. At the bottom of the bag was a cardboard nail file and a comb.

When Stiles carried it all into the bathroom and arranged it on the top of the toilet tank, it finally dawned on him that there was only one toothbrush, as if they didn't even consider Derek a person who would want his own. There were a lot of people who thought werewolves were less than human; Stiles hated them on principle. It shouldn't have surprised him that the kind of people who would put that awful collar on Derek didn't think of him as an actual person.

That night before bed Stiles brushed his teeth, then rinsed the brush and loaded it up a second time with bright blue gel that promised to taste winter fresh and handed it to Derek. "Make sure you do your fangs," he said, in his best television commercial mom voice.

Derek stared at it for a second, then crammed it in his mouth and started brushing his teeth.

It was kind of hilarious, actually, the way Derek glowered the whole time as if he were doing it under protest, and clutched the handle in his fist like a toddler. And it was almost cute how he got all foamy around his mouth—Stiles was above making rabies jokes, he really was—and the way he snorted and wrinkled his nose at the taste of the toothpaste after he spit into the sink.

Derek wasn't a fan of winter freshness, apparently.

~*~

They fell into a comfortable pattern over the next few days: exercise time, bath time, breakfast time, stare at the pile of crap under the closet floor time, cuddle on the mattress time, food delivery time, moon watching time, bedtime. Every morning, Stiles added another hash mark to their tally on the closet wall.

At first, Stiles "read" to Derek every day, but it never lasted long. Typically, he'd start out sharing something like American Handgunner's feature on the pros and cons of the cross-draw, which would inevitably lead to him telling Derek that when Stiles was a little kid his dad used to lock his sidearm in the gun safe out in the garage when he came home, he never brought it in the house. That inevitably led to another story that led to another story that led to the camping trip they went on the summer after Stiles graduated from high school, an entire week of just the two of them the woods, eating food that was always either overcooked or undercooked on the campfire, and so on and so forth.

After a while, Stiles gave up on the pretense of the magazines entirely, and reading time turned into just plain story time. Each day he picked a theme, like Terrible Injuries I've Sustained or The Top Five Best Meals of My Life or Times I Was Nearly Arrested by My Own Father. Derek seemed to enjoy most of Stiles' monologues more than the stuff in the magazines, and despite the fact that he couldn't talk, Stiles found it relatively easy to tell what was a hit: Derek had an inquisitive noise he'd make when he wanted Stiles to elaborate more on something, and if he didn't care at all he'd just go to sleep. It wasn't rocket science.

Stiles spent an entire day talking about Scott, starting from that fateful first lunch together in kindergarten, when Stiles made Scott laugh until he blew milk out of his nose and the teacher had to put Scott's extra emergency shirt on him on the very first day of school. By the end of cuddle time Stiles had only gotten to seventh grade, and the six months they spent trying to set their parents up, hoping they'd get married.

"I never had any siblings, you know?" Stiles said, thumbing the tip of Derek's ear just to watch it twitch. "Scott's the closest thing I have to a brother. We wanted it to be real, I guess. It's probably just as well it didn’t happen, because we kept fighting over whether we should be the Stilinski-McCalls or the McCall-Stilinskis."

Derek huffed in a way Stiles was now totally convinced was his version of laughing, because he used it around Stiles an awful lot.

The Adventures of Scott and Stiles picked up again after dinner, for lack of anything else to do, and included the story of how Scott became a werewolf. Derek was more interested in that than anything so far, so Stiles explained that Scott was an omega: some asshole alpha passing through town had bitten him and then promptly disappeared and never come back, leaving Scott to figure out the ins and outs of being a werewolf on his own.

Stiles had been the one who insisted on going to the big bonfire party in the Preserve that night, a place that was popular with underage locals for drinking and fooling around. He'd wanted to go because Lydia was going to be there, and he finally swayed Scott by telling him the cute new girl he had a crush on was going to be there, too. It wasn't their usual group--Stiles and Scott weren't even close to being that popular--but Stiles had swiped a bottle of Jack from his dad's liquor cabinet, thus guaranteeing them admittance. High school kids didn't turn down booze, no matter who arrived carrying it.

In books and movies the monster usually came out of nowhere, but that hadn't been the case that night. They'd all heard it coming, crashing through the trees and howling, getting ominously closer with every passing second. Stiles had felt instantly, coldly sober, fear turning his hands clammy, drying out his mouth. Somehow, he'd known it wasn't some kind of prank. Whatever was coming was real, and it wanted to hurt them.

Everyone had suddenly forgotten the social status rules of high school and clung to each other in a tight huddle as the noise got closer, and closer, until they could see the trees swaying, hear harsh breaths. What had burst into the circle of light around the fire had been like nothing Stiles had ever seen outside of a horror movie, a big, hulking, red-eyed thing, foam dripping from its muzzle

"I didn't even know what it was at the time. I had no clue werewolves existed, much less what one looked like," Stiles told Derek, who was following the story with unusual focus. "He was just…crazed. I didn't realize that wasn't normal."

Scott had been brave--or drunk--enough to grab a thick branch from the bonfire, still burning on one end, and take a swing at the thing as it charged the group. The monster had snapped it like a twig, howling in rage as the fur on its arm burned away, and then grabbed Scott around the throat and lifted him up into the air. Because Stiles was not going to just stand around and watch Scott get killed when he could get killed with him, he'd jumped right in, and ended up with a busted arm for his trouble. After that, the situation turned to pure chaos, and the monster would have probably killed them all if it hadn't been for some guys camping nearby, who showed up with guns and drove it off.

"He bit Scott, though. It took us--me, actually--a while to figure out what was going on. And since we didn't know anything about werewolves, we thought he was going to turn into a big, ugly alpha, so it was extra horrifying." When Derek made an indignant noise Stiles remembered belatedly that Derek was also an alpha. "I'm sure you're much more attractive in alpha form than that jerkface," Stiles reassured him, petting his hair.

It had been a rough first year for Scott as a werewolf, with no guidance but Deaton, who was cryptic and close-mouthed on a good day. Luckily for him, he had Stiles, who didn't know jack shit about lycanthropy but was a gold medal Googler.

Even though Stiles hadn't been bitten, that single night in the woods had been life-changing for both of them, Scott more immediately and traumatically so, obviously. But it had also put Stiles on the path to magic, which he began learning out of necessity--someone had to handle the stuff that was toxic to werewolves--and the deeper into the quagmire of supernatural danger they got, the harder he'd worked to learn more.

After a few more brushes with death, it became abundantly clear that sometimes bad things needed to be stopped by doing another bad thing, and most of the time Scott was reluctant to do bad things. Of the two of them, Stiles was the more ruthless, and he was determined to keep Scott alive no matter what he had to do. So: magic.

Deaton, who was similarly wired when it came to the grayer areas of morality, had eventually agreed to take Stiles on as an apprentice, though Stiles was so persistent in trying to convince him that he'd probably finally caved just to shut him up. That was okay, though. What had started as a way to keep his dad and Scott and his other friends safe had turned into a side job before he'd known it, and then after college he'd decided to get serious about it.

That night had also put Stiles on the path to where he was now, locked up in a horror movie kidnapping cabin with Derek, but he didn't dwell on that part.

~*~

Another side effect of that fateful night in the woods was that Lydia Martin had finally noticed Stiles existed, which was fodder for the next day's story time. Derek didn't seem invested in hearing about Lydia at all, even though Stiles skipped over a lot of the pining for purposes of his own dignity. It wasn't until Stiles mentioned Lydia had also been bitten during the attack that Derek finally perked up and indicated he wanted to hear more. When Stiles explained that she'd never turned, and no one knew why, he looked as baffled as everyone else had been at the time.

"She's got some kind of immunity," Stiles explained. "Not just to that, but to, like, everything supernatural. One time when she went missing I tried to do a locator spell on her, and it couldn’t find her."

That had been a terrifying two days of Stiles' life, because he'd thought the reason the spell didn't work was because she was dead. He still hated thinking about it, and Derek must have been able to tell, because he nuzzled at Stiles' hand. Stiles smiled down at him and gave his arm a grateful squeeze.

"She can't even put down a mountain ash line or mix up any kind of potion," he said. "It all goes inert as soon as she touches it. If she handles any magic supplies at the shop that aren't in some kind of bag or container, we have to throw them away. It's crazy."

Stiles and Lydia owned a little occult bookstore and magic shop together, which Stiles had mentioned offhandedly before, but now Derek made curious noises about it, so even though it made him feel even more homesick, Stiles told him more about it, and how much he loved going to work every day and knowing it was theirs. Lydia's areas of expertise were antique books and bossing Stiles around, while Stiles did a brisk trade in magic work, some simple spells and charms for locals, but plenty more complicated stuff for people who were a little deeper down the supernatural rabbit hole than your average college Wiccan.

Most people probably thought Stiles was crazy to go into business with his ex-girlfriend, and all of those people were absolutely correct, but Stiles and Lydia had already been through hell and back together, and it was called teenage romance. If that hadn't made them hate each other, running a little magic geek shop together sure wouldn't.

They'd spent nearly two years as a couple in high school, which, in addition to being a particularly deadly period of time to live in Beacon Hills, was a whirlwind of high emotions and raging hormones, and included a really memorable loss of virginity, because they both almost died twenty minutes later. Then there had been the on-again-off-again drama of the first year of college, followed by a year where they hadn't talked at all, and then eventually friendship.

"Scott still thinks we'll get back together, because he and Allison broke up for a few years, too, but I don't think we will," Stiles said. "I don't feel that way anymore, and I know she doesn't, either. I think Scott really liked the idea of two sets of best friends being couples. He's an old school romantic." He looked down at Derek, who was using Stiles' thigh as a pillow again. The corner of his lip was curled up over a fang, like he was repulsed by the topic of love.

"And you are not a romantic," Stiles guessed, amused. Derek snorted in disgust. Talking about love sure made him cranky.

"Hey, it makes the world go round, buddy, like it or not," Stiles said, ruffling Derek's hair, and then laughed again when Derek actually made an exasperated sound and rolled his eyes.

Stiles was delighted. At first he'd thought he was imagining it, or indulging in some wishful thinking, but every once in a while he noticed Derek was acting, well, a little more human. He responded a lot more when Stiles talked to him, with a widening range of facial expressions, and little vocalizations that were definitely not speech, but weren't just animal sounds, either. He was actively participating in conversation, interacting with Stiles in a way he hadn't at first.

"People do really stupid, terrible things for love. And you should see how many people ask me for love spells," Stiles went on, because he wasn't done with the topic, no matter Derek's feelings on the issue. "Sometimes I feel bad for them, because they're so sad and desperate, but mostly it's just gross."

He always told those clients there was no such thing as love spells, that they didn't work, but that wasn't technically true. There were things you could do to make people think they were in love with you, but Stiles refused to have anything to do with that kind of magic because it was icky and wrong and hello, consent issues.

"Plus, I don't really get it," he said, after he explained his objections to Derek. "If you've ever really been in love, had someone feel that way about you, I don't know how you'd ever be happy with an illusion. I know I wouldn't."

Derek stared up at him, his beautiful eyes a thousand different colors in the soft sunlight coming through the window, and didn't disagree.

~*~

By the tenth day, Stiles was getting mightily sick of burgers and fries, which was something he hadn't even realized was possible; Derek had given up on almost everything but the actual chicken patties and bacon slices. There was a growing pile of fast food wrappers, fish sandwiches, and shredded lettuce in the grass under the window. The guys who brought the food didn't seem to notice or care.

Since asking for a toothbrush had worked, Stiles decided to press his luck and see if he could get some variety in the menu.

"Not that I don't love a good burger, but any time you guys want to swing past Del Taco or something instead, I'd be down with that," Stiles said, after he set the greasy bags down. Derek was pacing back and forth behind him, but not even growling or anything. He was getting a lot less theatrical about food delivery.

"This guy thinks he's in a restaurant," the bald guy said, and spit a stream of tobacco juice onto the porch. He had one line and was working it to death.

"I'm just saying," Stiles went on, ignoring him. "A little change in the menu would be welcome. And maybe a crossword puzzle book or a harmonica or something. You locked me up with a guy who can't talk." Stiles actually found Derek to be good company even without talking, but he wanted to see if they'd actually give him something he didn't necessarily need. He'd take whatever he could get.

"You'll eat what we bring you," the bald guy said pissily, but Geraldo gave Stiles an appraising look.

"You know about herbs and stuff, right?" he asked.

Derek, who had been sniffing at the food bags, seemed to take offense at Geraldo's interest in talking to Stiles and promptly took up position between him and the door, practically sitting on Stiles' feet, and narrowed his eyes in suspicion. Stiles nudged him gently with his knee, hoping Derek would understand it for the cue to be cool he intended it to be.

"Yes," Stiles answered, cautious, not sure where this was going. "Why?"

Geraldo appeared to think about it for a second, as if deciding whether he really wanted to do what he was about to do, then said, "My brother's wife has morning sickness real bad and it's driving him nuts. You know anything that'll help?"

The bald guy scoffed in disbelief. "You gonna trust this kid not to poison your sister-in-law?" he asked.

Geraldo gave him the side-eye. "Be pretty stupid of him, when he's trapped here and at our mercy," he pointed out. He looked back at Stiles. "You help my brother out, I'll see what I can do for you."

"Peppermint tea helps, and fresh ginger," Stiles supplied right away. He wasn't sure he trusted Geraldo to hold up his end of the bargain, but he seemed as sincere as an evil, kidnapping douchebag could be. "There's also a tonic called Mummy Tummy--yes, I know, the name's terrible, deal with it," he said as Geraldo grimaced. "You can find recipes for it online, and it's super easy to make, but it's got fermented cod liver oil in it, so some women can't stand the taste. Really helps, though, if she can choke it down."

"Huh. Worth a shot," Geraldo said. He stared at Stiles for a moment, as if trying to figure out whether or not he was just making shit up, then shrugged and left.

"Your stuff worked," he said the next night, when he showed up carrying three pizza boxes. The smell almost made Stiles' knees buckle. "She says it tastes like shit, but it's worth it. So here you go." He held the pizzas up, waiting for Stiles to reach across the mountain ash for them; Derek always watched the food drop-off with steely-eyed intensity, waiting for one of the toadies to put one pinky over the line where he could get it.

As stoked as he was to see the pizza, it took Stiles a second to notice that resting on top of the pizzas was a much, much smaller box: a brand new deck of cards.

Stiles barely dared look at it, afraid his face would give him away, but as soon as he exchanged insults with the bald guy and locked the door, he reached for the little box with unsteady hands. It took him two tries to get it open, and by then he was certain it was a trick, that it wouldn't have actual playing cards in it, but they fanned out into his palm, slippery, shiny, never used. For a moment, Stiles forgot how to move, until a headbutt from Derek brought him back to reality.

They'd given a mage a deck of cards.

There was no way the old man they talked about sometimes, whoever he was, knew about this, because he at least had to know better, if he had masterminded all this. His toadies, on the other hand, really were a bunch of dumbasses. Not that Stiles was complaining.

He quickly shuffled through the deck and found the one card he'd probably need, and then made sure to have a game of solitaire laid out on the floor the next day when the toadies showed up, so it looked like he was actually using the deck. Even if someone got wise and decided to confiscate the cards, he could always claim Derek had eaten the queen of hearts.

When Geraldo looked at the game and said, "Using the cards, huh?" Stiles was glad he'd taken the precaution.

"Yep," Stiles said, and thought about thanking him, but didn't want to seem too happy to have the cards, and that would have been completely out of character anyway, so he smarted off to the bald guy as usual and shut the door in their faces instead.

"I'm gettin' real tired of that little fucker's attitude," Stiles heard the bald guy complain as they walked away.

"I kinda like him," Geraldo admitted. "Too bad he's not on our side. He'd drive Carla crazy, and it'd be worth it just for that."

"You got a point there," the bald guy agreed, and the last thing Stiles heard was a laugh that turned into a hacking smoker's cough.

That night the food was tacos, the next night Chinese, which was an utter flop with Derek, because he couldn't easily eat it with his hands. In the end, Stiles used the spork to feed him spoonfuls of Szechuan beef and rice, which Derek chewed grudgingly, and then sulked on the bed until it was dark.

The night after that marked the return of the burgers, and this time there was a toy in one of the bags, one of those cheap plastic things fast food places handed out. It was a tie-in to some movie about little kids who were spies, a pair of plastic pinchers, like the grabber Stiles' great-aunt Esther had used to pick things up off the floor, minus the long handle. Stiles opened and closed it a few times with the lever, and then pretended to snap at Derek's nose with it. Derek bared his teeth and snapped playfully back, which had the unexpected reaction of making Stiles' heart feel all warm and full.

Derek had never done anything like that before, and Stiles was sure it meant something. Derek really was changing.

~*~

The days started getting warmer as spring edged toward summer, which meant the nights were less frigid for Stiles' poor bare feet, though Derek had been graciously tolerant of Stiles' habit of shoving them under Derek's legs when he couldn't take the cold anymore. In the afternoons, when the sun had been pounding down on the cabin for hours, the temperature inside could get downright unpleasant. They started leaving the front door open most of the time, to get as much of a breeze through the place as possible, and most of the time the toadies just walked up to the door, threw the food in, and left without saying anything.

Warmer days also meant sweatier workouts, and it wasn't long before Stiles finally abandoned modesty completely one morning, getting totally wet and naked right there in the middle of the bathroom floor, door wide open.

He had just finished lathering up his sweaty hair with the fruity hotel shampoo when he sensed movement behind him. When he glanced over his shoulder, there was Derek, hunkered down on the floor in nothing but his birthday suit, jeans in a heap next to him.

"Aha!" Stiles yelled, pointing a foamy finger at him. "I knew you could get your clothes off! You weren't fooling me, you lazy bastard. You've been going to the bathroom just fine all this time, so there was no way you were trapped in those pants without me."

Derek's attitude had, up until now, been that if Stiles wanted Derek clean, Stiles had to do the cleaning. Since Stiles shared a bed with him, Stiles had done the cleaning. And the unzipping, and everything else. Derek had been playing him like a violin.

The smug look on Derek's face was not just Stiles' imagination. It was fact.

"Here you go. You're scrubbing your own balls, dude," Stiles said, and tossed one of the small bars of soap at him. Derek casually snatched it out of the air with the kind of speed regular humans could only dream of and then, much to Stiles' relief, actually made his way to the sink, which was full of warm water. He dipped the soap in to get it wet and started lathering himself up as Stiles went back to washing his hair, which by now was starting to get a little shaggy.

Rinsing was a little more challenging, and eventually Stiles resorted to just flinging handfuls of water at himself and Derek. The bathroom was a mess, but they were both clean.

After that, Derek was totally down with naked bath time, and he joined in every morning, even though he wasn't getting all sweated up like Stiles was. Which made it even more unfair that he still looked exactly as fit and muscular as he had two weeks ago. Stiles would have been really annoyed by that, if he weren't having so much fun appreciating the view.

All that daily soapy nakedness only further weakened the already compromised boundary dividing what was cool between two dudes who were just roommates and what was cool between two dudes who were probably going to fuck each other really soon, and cuddle time slowly evolved into long hours of what could only be called mutual grooming. Stiles refused to feel weird about it, because he was being held hostage and he could do whatever he needed in order to deal.

Derek seemed to want to be touched all the time, maybe because it distracted him from the collar, and he returned the favor with his own forms of affection. Stiles spent several lazy, hot afternoons dragging his nails in small circles over Derek's scalp while Derek licked the sweat out of Stiles' bellybutton and rubbed his face against Stiles' thighs, a rumble coming from his chest that was almost like a purr. Which was cats, not wolves, but Stiles had no patience for pedants, so he was calling it a purr.

He woke one night with Derek hovering over him on all fours, his hands pressing down into the mattress on either side of Stiles' hips as he slowly dragged his tongue up the small of Stiles' back, over and over. Stiles was pleasantly hard against the bed, drowsy and content, and he was tempted to roll over and see what would happen, but sleep pulled him under again before he could make a decision.

~*~

"I know who you are," Stiles confessed one afternoon during cuddle time. He was on his back on the mattress, staring up at the stained ceiling and running his fingers up and down the big vein that bisected Derek's upper arm. Derek had some seriously veiny arms, which was quickly becoming Stiles' favorite thing. Stiles was really learning a disconcertingly large number of new things about his sexuality while in captivity.

Derek lifted his head, a comical expression of surprise on his face, fang-filled mouth actually hanging open in shock. He tilted his head and made a sound that could have meant, Me? Or maybe, Really? Or maybe, Are you fucking serious right now?

"I'm from Beacon Hills," Stiles explained. It wasn't like it was a secret, but he'd avoided bringing it up so far, because then Derek would know Stiles knew all about the fire, and things were already miserable enough for Derek without Stiles reminding him of the time most of his pack had burned to death. But the longer they were here, and the more he told Derek about his own life, the more it started to feel like he was deceiving him by leaving that part out. "I guess most people there know about your family. Do you have a pack that's looking for you?" he asked. "Your sister, maybe?"

Derek's expression fell and he made a soft, sad noise before tucking his face into Stiles' armpit and letting out a long, shuddering breath.

"Sorry," Stiles said, regretting he'd mentioned it. "I didn't mean to upset you." He stroked the back of Derek's head with his fingers, trying to comfort him a little, ease the wounds he'd just reopened. "Did I ever tell you about the time Danny, Lydia and I were trapped in a hospital supply closet for two hours?"

~*~

That night, Stiles had a nightmare.

They weren't in the cabin anymore, they were in a room Stiles recognized as the one where they'd put the dampening tincture on him, but this time it was Derek who was strapped to the metal table. The bald guy was standing over him with a bone saw in his hand, the blade glinting in the harsh spotlight shining down on Derek's straining body. As Stiles watched in horror, the bald guy smirked and flicked the power switch on the saw.

Stiles wanted to stop him, grab the saw away and use it to smash his head in, but someone was holding him back with rough hands on his shoulders. When Stiles opened his mouth to summon a spell, he couldn't talk, and he gagged instead, hunching over as black goo poured from his mouth, splattering the grimy floor and his bare feet. Derek was howling in terror, the bald guy laughing as he brought the saw down on his arm, just above his elbow. The blade sliced into the vein in Derek's arm, the one Stiles spent so much time admiring, and blood sprayed everywhere, and Derek's howl turned into a scream--

Stiles woke up in a tight little ball, his hands clenched into fists and shoved under his chin, sweat prickling on his neck, the backs of his knees. Derek was crouched next to him on the mattress, a distressed whine rising and falling in his throat. For long seconds Stiles couldn't even breathe, his chest and throat locked down tight, just like they'd been in the dream when he tried to talk.

The first breath hurt, a sucked-in, painful gulp, and Derek's vocalizations only got more agitated. Stiles took another breath, this one bigger and coming more easily to him, and was finally able to relax his body and unclench his hands. As soon as he opened his arms, Derek insinuated himself against Stiles' front, and Stiles clung to him like a monkey, grateful all over again he wasn't alone.

He was always alone in his nightmares. Not actually, physically alone—there were other people in the dreams—but in nearly all of them there was someone he cared about in danger and there was no one to stop it but him, and he couldn't. Nothing he tried ever helped, and all he could do was stand by and watch, powerless. Stiles didn't deal well with being powerless.

The dreams had started after his mother died, and the grief counselor had said it was normal, just the way he was dealing with his mother's death and his inability to save her, which was so cliché it was almost embarrassing. The dreams had been a part of his life ever since, and came back when he was stressed. It was actually a surprise he hadn't had one sooner.

"It was just a bad dream," Stiles said to Derek, who was being a little too determined in his attempts to comfort, practically shoving Stiles beneath his own body, like he could protect him from further nightmares by simply being a physical barrier to the outside world. If only. "Sorry I woke you up."

Derek huffed in irritation at that, like Stiles was being dumb for worrying about him, and Stiles couldn't decide if he was moved by the sentiment or amused. Either way, it had been a while since he'd had someone next to him when he woke up from a nightmare, and it definitely made things better.

Neither of them slept after that, though not for lack of trying, and they got out of bed later than usual, when the sun was already high in the sky. Stiles felt dull and listless, and just getting up seemed like a monumental effort. Walking out into the front room only made him want to go back to bed, but the thought of lying there, unable to sleep, was equally unappealing.

He didn't feel like eating, so Derek refused to eat, too, even when Stiles encouraged him to finish off the fried chicken, which was his favorite. Feeling restless yet unmotivated, Stiles wandered from window to window with increasing despair while Derek followed him, anxiously watching every move he made.

Stiles skipped his morning workout for the first time—he's slept through it anyway, he told himself--and didn't bother with bath time, even when Derek pointedly crouched in the bathroom doorway and stared at him. Normally, seeing Derek naked was a high point in Stiles' day, but even that had momentarily lost its appeal.

Frustrated, and desperate to feel like he was accomplishing something, Stiles got the stuff from the closet and dumped it out on the mattress, but that only made him angry. At himself for not being able to think of a way out of here, at his dad and Scott for not coming to save him, at the old man and the toadies for doing this to him, and then at Derek for sitting so close and breathing all over him.

He got up and stalked into the front room, suddenly more aware than ever that he couldn't go anywhere, that he was trapped here. He'd been very determined to put it out of his mind so far, focusing on Derek and sit-ups and taunting the bald guy and trying to think up a way to escape, but it was hitting him full force now, and it wasn't pleasant. He just wanted out, he wanted this over, he wanted someone to find him and take him home. He wanted his dad.

Derek had followed along behind, nosing at him and licking his elbow until Stiles jerked it away. "Stop it!" he snapped. "Can you just give me some goddamn space for five fucking minutes?"

Derek skittered away from him like a beat down dog, a hurt look on his face, and then turned and went back to the bedroom as Stiles stared out the window and fumed.

Once the flash of anger faded, it didn't take long for Stiles to start feeling guilty. It wasn't Derek's fault they were stuck here, and it certainly wasn't his fault Stiles was having a tough time dealing with shit today. And then Stiles' guilty conscience reminded him that Derek was constantly in pain, and being kept half-animal against his will. Of the two of them, Stiles was certainly getting the better end of the deal, and Derek hadn't done anything to deserve Stiles' anger. Yelling at him had been a dick move of epic proportions.

Derek was curled up small on the bed, next to the pile of stuff from the hidey-hole, when Stiles poked his head around the bedroom door, and that made Stiles feel even worse. He looked so miserable and dejected. He didn't even open his eyes when Stiles sat down next to him.

"Hey," Stiles said, but Derek shrugged off the hand Stiles put on his arm and still refused to look at him. That stung, but Stiles figured he'd earned it. "I owe you a really big apology," he said. "You didn't do anything wrong. I'm just being a dickhead. And I understand why you're mad at me and I totally deserve it."

Derek finally opened his eyes, pinning Stiles with an angry stare that told him he still had a ways to go to patch things up between them.

"I’m not having a good day," Stiles explained, which didn't even come close to describing how he felt, raw and vulnerable and worthless. "I feel like…"

Like shit, was what he felt like. But he owed Derek a better explanation than that, because Derek probably felt like shit most of the time, and he wasn't a jerk about it. With a great air of reluctance, Derek pushed himself up to sitting and continued to stare at Stiles, unimpressed with his excuses.

"I don't think I can do it," Stiles confessed hoarsely, awful words he'd been avoiding saying out loud for a few days now. "I can't get us out of here. I'm sorry." He couldn’t bear to look at Derek as he admitted it, so he stared at a tear in the seam of his jeans instead, and let the truth sink in. They were both going to die because he couldn't do anything to save them. Maybe all those bad dreams he'd had over the years had actually been prophetic.

Derek made an angry sound, which Stiles didn't blame him for, because he'd been telling him all this time they were going to get out, and it had turned out to be a lie. Then Derek ducked his head down and leaned around to shove his face in front of Stiles', demanding Stiles look at him, but when Stiles did, Derek didn't look angry at all anymore. He looked determined.

When he had Stiles' attention, Derek reached over and picked up the little packet of pennies, then carefully placed it in Stiles' hand, resting open in his lap. When Stiles didn't react, he grabbed up the matches and put those on top of the pennies, and then the rubber band. He didn't stop there.

"Okay, I get it," Stiles said, mouth wanting to smile against his will, when his hands were overflowing and he had a packet of taco seasoning sliding down between his legs. "I'll keep trying."

Derek made a sound that Stiles could only interpret as, You bet your ass you will.

There was no other option. Derek wasn't going to give up, so Stiles couldn't either. Or maybe Derek simply believed in him that much, and trusted him to come through. He didn't know Stiles from Adam, and had no reason to have that much faith in him, but it helped anyway.

Derek hummed with satisfaction and then sat back while Stiles awkwardly got his feet, clutching their scavenged booty against his chest. He was going to start fresh tomorrow with his head in the right place, but right now he was going to put everything away and spend some time being nice to Derek. He shuffled toward the closet, trying not to drop anything, while Derek graciously helped by carrying the taco seasoning.

Stiles yawned, huge and jaw-cracking, as he put everything back in the hidey hole. Having a meltdown was really exhausting. Maybe now he'd be able to get a little sleep.

By the time he'd closed up the secret compartment, Derek was already stretched out on the bed, flat on his back, and when he lifted his arm in a welcoming gesture, Stiles gave in to what he'd wanted to do for a while and crawled right on top of him. He wanted to just burrow down and be safe and never come out, but he knew that wasn't possible. He'd have to get back up at some point, and get back to the business of escaping. It already didn't feel as hopeless as it had a few minutes ago, though, with Derek's arms wrapped around him just tightly enough.

"I'm glad you're here," Stiles whispered, because he didn't think he'd ever told Derek that, and that seemed like a glaring oversight. It was so true it was almost painful to say the words. He flexed his fingers against the hard muscles of Derek's shoulders. "I mean it. I can't imagine doing this without you."

A soft, plaintive sound came from Derek's throat as he nuzzled at Stiles' face. When Derek's palm gently cupped the back of Stiles' head, Stiles let out a breath it felt like he'd been holding for days and melted into Derek's body, which was exceptionally comfortable, given how little body fat he had. The rumble of Derek's chest under his ear finally lulled him to sleep.

~*~

One good thing about Derek was that he didn't hold a grudge against Stiles for being an ass, and things went back to normal like Stiles had never been a jerk to him.

They still spent the last hour or so before bed in the front room, looking at the moon if it was visible, or just listening to the crickets, but as the days passed Stiles watched the moon fill in with rising trepidation. Those first few full moons with Scott had been more than a little terrifying, and he wasn't keen to relive them now. A born wolf like Derek would have been able to exert full control over himself from a young age, no matter what the phase of the moon, but the collar was a wild card.

"So, the moon's almost full," Stiles ventured one afternoon. They were in their underwear on the mattress again, and Derek was using Stiles' stomach as a pillow, softly breathing hot air across the single layer of fabric covering Stiles' dick, making the rest of Stiles' body prickle with goosebumps. Stiles lived in a near constant state of sexual arousal now, which was a nice counterpoint to his nagging fear of dying painfully in captivity.

Derek made a sound that was equal parts agreement and annoyance, and twitched his head up into Stiles' fingers so he'd keep running them through his hair. He never got enough touching, it seemed, even though it felt like Stiles had his hands on him all the time.

"Are you...going to be okay?" Stiles asked carefully, because outright asking if Derek was going to murder him seemed rude. The even rhythm of Derek's breath faltered, and he lifted his head off Stiles' belly, turning to look at him. "I know you probably don't have any problem normally," Stiles said quickly. "But the collar..."

Stiles let that thought trail off as Derek slowly shifted to loom over him, bracing himself with one clawed hand on the bed next to Stiles' ear. His pretty eyes were mapping Stiles' face, catching on his mouth, lingering there a little before Derek looked into his eyes for a long time, until Stiles wanted to squirm and look away. His cheeks felt hot, and it was suddenly hard to breathe with Derek looking at him so intently.

With aching slowness, Derek stretched his body out along Stiles' side, curling his arm over Stiles' stomach, and leaned down, like he was going to kiss him. Stiles cupped the back of Derek's head with his hand and urged him down as he tipped his own chin up, wanting it, dying for it, not caring about the fangs, but their mouths never touched.

Instead, Derek bumped the tip of his nose against Stiles' and made a small, soothing noise in his throat that morphed into his rumble-purr as dropped his head lower still to nuzzle at Stiles' jaw before gently nosing his way into the skin behind Stiles' ear, which was one of his favorite spots. He sighed, a happy and content sound, when Stiles rubbed the back of his head, and then he went to sleep, snuggled down into Stiles' shoulder like a two hundred pound kitten.

That was his answer, Stiles figured, so he stopped worrying.

They sat in the front room as usual on the night of the full moon, watching it fill the window, so huge and bright that they cast shadows on the floor. True to his implied promise, Derek had remained calm and completely in control in the hours leading up to the full moon, and hadn't so much as flared his eyes once since the moon rose. If anything, he was even more subdued than usual, staring up at the moon with a longing expression on his face.

Stiles found it hard to look away from him, crouched on all fours, the way the muscles in his shoulders and thighs flexed when he shifted his weight, the way he closed his eyes and lifted his nose to scent the air when something moved in the woods. Stiles could still picture the man he'd seen on Derek's driver's license, preternaturally attractive even in a shitty DMV photo, but Derek was beautiful like this, too, Stiles realized. He was probably beautiful all the time.

Stiles wasn't, in general, frightened or repulsed by the way werewolves looked in beta shift, even though he still thought the alpha he'd seen way back when was damn ugly. Ordinary werewolves in beta form were usually sort of...themselves but dressed up for Halloween. Secretly, he thought Scott looked a little like Eddie Munster when he was shifted, which was kind of hilarious.

Of course, Stiles had known Scott since they were in footie pajamas, which took away a little of the mystique normally associated with being a supernatural creature, and usually when Scott was shifted it was because he and Stiles were trying not to die. Stiles had never just hung out with Scott for hours at a time while he was wolfed out. That would have been weird. This was a whole different experience for Stiles, spending so much time with a shifted wolf.

Though maybe it was Derek himself who was different; Stiles had never met another wolf like him before. His family was legendary, and the pack blood that flowed in his veins could be traced back hundreds and hundreds of years, maybe even further, if the history books were right, to a time when humans and wolves had lived side by side in caves, had run together at the hunt. He was undeniably a wild creature, a force of nature wrapped in muscle and sinew. He looked like he belonged in the woods, running free with the moonlight on his shoulders and the earth beneath his feet, his pack at his heels.

Right now he had none of those things, but Stiles was going to fix that.

~*~

On the seventeenth morning, Stiles drifted back to consciousness with Derek's big arm looped over his waist, claws carefully tucked into the palm of his hand to keep them away from Stiles' skin. They were both in their underwear and Derek was stuck to Stiles' back like he'd been glued there. When Stiles shifted a little, yawning, Derek grumbled behind him and nudged him with his hips. Stiles nudged back as he spread his toes and wiggled them, feeling Derek's erection hard and hot against his ass, giving heaviness to the lazy heat already gathered between Stiles' legs.

Still floating in the pleasant haze between sleep and waking, Stiles hummed happily and tipped his head back, exposing his neck to the feel of Derek's warm breath, sending a wave of shivers down his body. He wanted to be naked, wanted to roll over and rut against Derek, maybe suck him until he came, rub off against his wonderful stomach. Half-awake, comfortable and turned on, all of that sounded good to Stiles.

His skin was tingling, every point of contact with Derek's body pleasantly hot and alive, blood pounding thickly in his veins, body heavy with the warm taffy feel of morning arousal. He closed his hand around Derek's forearm, running his palm down over the slope of muscle there, until he reached his fist, tucked up against Stiles' bare belly. Mindful of the claws, Stiles slid his hand down to cover Derek's, fingers slotting between the grooves of his knuckles, and arched his back, grinding against Derek's dick with his ass as he eased their hands down to where Stiles was hard and ready, straining up toward the anticipated touch.

Before they got to the good part, though, Derek's arm tightened, pushing a little moan out of Stiles' body, and his hips rolled, rubbing his hard cock against the swell of Stiles' ass again before he made a frustrated noise and jerked his hand from Stiles' grip. Stiles suddenly found himself being shoved away, the shock of it bringing him fully awake like he'd been splashed with cold water. When he rolled over, a little unsteady, stomach clenching with dread, Derek was gone. As in not even in the room.

After blinking at the empty bed for a few seconds, Stiles lumbered to his feet and made the short trip to the front room in total confusion. Derek was crouched in the square of morning sunlight in the kitchen, one of his favorite spots, but his whole body looked tense, and when Stiles said his name Derek's head whipped around and he actually hissed at Stiles, teeth bared. For the first time in weeks, Stiles was actually afraid of him.

He backed away slowly, until he was in the hallway, but Derek didn't make any other threatening moves. But he never turned to look at him again, either, and Stiles went back to the bedroom, perplexed and shaken.

The only conclusion he could come to was that Derek did not want to do what they'd just done, which was kind of a bummer, because Stiles very much did. He had very little privacy here with which to deal with sexual frustration, because he felt weird going in the bathroom and jerking off, knowing that Derek could tell what he was doing, and lately he'd had a lot of sexual frustration that he'd felt certain was leading to actual sex. He was literally spending all his time with Derek, who he was definitely attracted to, cuddling and touching and spooning and soaping up in the bathroom together every morning like they were in a goddamn porno. Derek licked him all the time. The tension between them had to go somewhere, and Stiles was ready.

He'd thought Derek felt the same way, but hoo boy, guess not.

Shaken, and feeling a little guilty for stepping over a line he hadn't even seen, Stiles sat on the mattress with his chin on his knees. He wasn't sleepy anymore, and the bed was lonely without Derek, but he didn't know what else to do but stay in the bedroom. Derek didn't want to be around him, and Stiles hadn't appreciated until that moment how lucky they were they got along so well. Sharing three small rooms with another person was a lot easier when you wanted each other's company.

He still had a few magazines to read, but they were out in the other room, where he wasn't welcome. The bathroom didn't hold much in the way of entertainment. Derek was Stiles' only entertainment.

Well, they were adults, they could deal with this. It wouldn't be the first time Stiles had made a pass at someone and been shot down. He could handle it with grace. All Derek had to do was say no--he didn't need to run away and get all growly. He didn't have to be a drama queen about it.

Screw this, Stiles decided, emboldened by his rising indignation. They couldn't fight. It was stupid and pointless and would only make an already shitty situation more shitty. He couldn’t deal with any additional shittiness. He was maxed out, full up, done. They'd been chugging along pretty smoothly up until now, and he wasn't going to let that change.

This was assuming, of course, that Stiles making an overt pass at him was the problem. There was the small sticking point of the confusingly aggressive way Derek had reacted to him, but Stiles decided he didn't have anything to lose. If he was wrong about this and there was actually a bigger problem, if Derek had somehow gone rabid or something overnight, well, Stiles was probably doing to die here anyway, if he couldn't figure out a way to escape. What did it matter how?

He got up and marched determinedly back into the other room. Derek was still huddled in his square of sunlight, and didn’t look up when Stiles approached him.

"I'm sorry," Stiles said, surprising himself, because he'd been planning to open with, What the fuck is your problem?

Derek finally did look at him, and the look said Stiles had overwhelmed Derek with his stupidity. Stiles had gotten really good at reading Derek's looks, unfortunately.

"Why are you looking at me like that? I'm apologizing!" Stiles said, aggravated.

Derek glowered at him, looking equally aggravated.

"Is this because I was, you know, rubbing on you? Because you were rubbing on me, you know. You started it." Oh, God, Stiles thought, wincing. Ten seconds in and the conversation was going completely off the rails. He was already resorting to grade school comebacks.

Derek looked away, noticeably shamefaced, and it took Stiles a minute to take apart his theory and reassemble it in reverse.

"Wait. This is because you were rubbing against me?"

And then the entire who-rubbed-on-who argument suddenly dropped into well and distant second place on Stiles' attention meter, because for the very first time since Stiles had woken up in this stupid cabin, Derek nodded his head in response to a question. It was slow and kind of jerky, like he didn't quite have the hang of it, but there was no mistaking it was entirely deliberate.

Stiles was so thrilled by what he saw as an amazing breakthrough in communication that for a second he forgot they were fighting. "Oh my God, did you just nod your head? Was that a yes?" he asked gleefully, not even trying to keep his cool.

Derek's eyes darted toward him and then away, and he nodded again. It looked a little more natural this time, not so much like one of those creepy animatronic people at Disneyland.

"Holy crap, this is awesome!" Stiles shouted, doing a double fistpump. "I knew it! I knew I wasn't imagining it." He whooped with joy and strutted in a circle, arms thrust in the air over his head, too happy to contain it all. It hadn't been wishful thinking: Derek was becoming less feral. Stiles had no idea how--maybe the spell was weakening over time?--but his human side was slowly starting to show. "This is so awesome. This is so awesome. We need to do something to celebrate!"

When he circled back around to look at Derek, though, he didn't look like he was in a mood to celebrate. He looked miserable. Stiles' happy mood burst like an over-filled water balloon.

"I guess we could, uh, celebrate later. Or something," he said, dropping his arms to his sides, feeling like an ass. Derek had no reaction to that.

"Um, so," Stiles started, after a very long awkward silence. "This is about what just happened, right?"

Derek nodded again, but this time Stiles managed to restrain himself and stay focused on figuring out how to fix this. What he knew so far was that a little butt humping and an almost-grope had made Derek agitated, but not because Stiles had sexually harassed him—Derek apparently felt he was just as responsible for it as Stiles. Now they just had to play a game of twenty questions to get to the bottom of the problem. Stiles took a moment, though, to be thankful that it wasn't rabies after all.

All right. Yes or no questions. They could do this. First question. "Did you mean to do it?" he asked.

Derek made a short, sharp noise that usually indicated a no, but with an undertone of distress that wasn't normally there; he was really unhappy over what had happened between them and hadn't intended for it to happen. It had been an accident, maybe. Derek had been asleep, or not aware of what he was doing until it was already happening.

Stiles had totally misread the situation, and Derek's intentions, this whole time; he hoped his guilt and disappointment didn't show on his face.

He stood there for a moment, at a loss as to what to do next. He was--he really liked Derek, and he hated seeing him upset, and hated even more that he was the cause of it. But as he watched, Derek slowly shuffled his hands and feet until he was facing Stiles directly, staring at him, and he looked so broken open and sad, more vulnerable than Stiles had ever seen him. He looked at Stiles like he was desperate to come to him, but he was holding back for some reason.

"Derek," Stiles said, when he realized he'd asked the wrong question before. "Did you want to do it?"

Derek hesitated, and then he looked down at the floor and nodded, quickly.

Wanted to, but didn't mean to, and felt guilty about it. Stiles almost couldn't bring himself to ask the next logical question, so it ended up coming out all in a rush. "Are you married? Or do you have someone who—"

Derek cut him off with an emphatic no sound. Then he bared his teeth and clawed at the air, but in a fake, showy way, not menacing, that left Stiles completely stumped. What the fuck did that mean?

"You're not married because you're a werewolf?" Stiles guessed, because he seriously had no fucking idea.

Derek gave an annoyed huff and glared at him, which Stiles assumed meant he'd made a really bad guess.

"Derek, I'm sorry," Stiles said helplessly, taking a step toward him. "I don't understand. I don't--"

And Derek just exploded, so quickly and so violently that Stiles stumbled back and tripped over his own feet like he'd actually been pushed by the force of the roar that came from Derek's angry, wide open mouth. Stiles went down hard on his hip and his elbow, but as he shoved his bare heels against the floor, trying to get away, he realized Derek wasn't actually focused on him. He was snarling in frustration, hands scrabbling at the collar around his neck, and within seconds blood was flowing, both from the wooden spikes tearing into his neck and from the gouges his own claws were leaving in the skin around the collar.

"Oh my God! Don't!" Stiles yelled, horrified, and then did what was probably in the top five dumbest things he'd ever done in his life and scrambled across the floor towards Derek. "Derek, stop!" he said again, and this time his voice broke, and it came out as pleading. "Please stop."

Either Stiles' words finally got through or Derek got it out of his system, because he gave the collar one more vicious tug, punctuated by a choked off whimper, and fell forward onto all fours, flexing his bloodied hands against the floor, breaths coming in huge, heaving gasps. As Stiles watched, fresh blood dripped slowly from the collar onto the floor. Big, bright red drops of it. Stiles could hear each plop plop in the sudden, shocked silence.

Stiles felt like his eyes had just been forcibly wrenched open. He knew the collar was horrible for Derek, but he seemed to ignore it so easily that Stiles had gotten pretty good at ignoring it, too. That didn't mean that Derek didn't have to live with it every second of every day, or that it wasn't affecting him. His outburst had probably been brewing for a while, somehow set off by what had happened between them this morning, the last straw.

When Derek didn't move, Stiles slowly crawled toward him and knelt at his shoulder. "Hey," he said softly. He wanted to touch him, to soothe him, but didn't know if it would be welcome. Derek answered that question for him by practically falling into Stiles' arms. He kept his bloody hands tucked against his stomach, like he didn't want to touch Stiles with them, but Stiles wrapped his arms tight around Derek's shoulders and held on while Derek shuffled closer, whining his distress into Stiles' throat.

"I'm sorry this happened to you. I'm so sorry," Stiles said, watching a rivulet of blood run down Derek's back. "We're gonna get out of here, and no one is ever going to do anything like this to you again, I promise." He dropped a tentative kiss onto the top of Derek's head, then another when Derek whimpered and pushed closer. "I promise."



Art by Rahciach

~*~

"This is just like old times," Stiles said, as he scrubbed at the back of Derek's hand with the washcloth. Once again Derek was up on the toilet lid, though much more subdued than usual, while Stiles wiped the blood away as best he could. Derek gave a soft, amused snort at Stiles' bad attempt at humor, and Stiles smiled at him, glad to see he was acting a little more like his usual self now.

Once Derek's hands were clean, Stiles ran a fresh sinkful of water so he could start on the blood around the collar. The gouges from the claws were healed, but Derek's chest and shoulders and back were a mess of drying blood.

As he wiped at Derek's chest, Derek lifted his hands and tentatively rested them on Stiles' hips, his first two fingers warm and a little damp against the skin just above the waistband of Stiles' underwear. Stiles couldn't help it—he was instantly hyper-aware of the touch, how smooth his skin was and the way one of Derek's fingers was twitching lightly. Derek didn't actually touch him with his hands much, usually nuzzling him or rubbing his head on him or just putting his entire body against him instead. Stiles assumed it was because of the claws.

It was because of the claws.

"You're worried you're going to hurt me," Stiles said, finally getting it.

Derek slowly lifted his hands away without even nicking him. Stiles didn't want him to let go, but didn't dare move to stop him. He watched, disheartened, as Derek nodded, then sort of collapsed in on himself, sinking down lower onto his haunches, shoulders slumped. His eyes, though, stayed on Stiles' face, like he was searching for a reaction. Judgment, maybe, or confirmation that Stiles was repulsed by him, or afraid.

Stiles gave himself some time to think about what to do next. He took a few steadying breaths as he rinsed the washcloth out again, and Derek let him get back to the business of cleaning him up.

After working in silence for a minute, Stiles said, "I just want you to know—and I'm not putting any pressure on you—that I'm not disgusted by you or anything, because you look like this right now. Obviously. And I don't have any kind of werewolf kink or anything either, if you're worried about that. Or at least I didn't have one until I met you. I guess my kink is you," he confessed, with a wry smile." Derek huffed a laugh at that, so Stiles kept going. "I’m not worried you're going to hurt me, and even if you did hurt me on accident, I'd know you didn't mean it and I'd forgive you."

Derek made an unhappy sound at the mention of hurting Stiles, even accidentally. It was obviously a big worry for him, one Stiles had been oblivious to up until now. Derek had done such a good job of not hurting him even once that it hadn't occurred to Stiles it was something that took constant effort and vigilance. If he'd learned anything today, it was that he'd been blind to a lot of things going on with Derek.

By now Derek was completely clean, but it was easier to talk while he was busy, so Stiles kept going, running the rag over his shoulder again. "I like you, and I want to have sex with you," he said. "I kinda thought that was where we were headed, to be honest. But I only want to have sex with you if you want to have sex with me, and I can wait."

He finally dropped the washcloth into the sink and took Derek's shaggy head in his hands, letting his fingers curl into the damp hair behind his pointy ears. Derek's eyes were wide and clear, and he looked almost hopeful, not as sad as he had just moments ago.

Stiles dipped his head, slowly enough that Derek had plenty of time to get away if he objected, but Derek didn't try to get away, so Stiles pressed the smallest and sweetest of kisses to Derek's deadly mouth, barely brushing their lips together in the space between Derek's protruding lower canines. As soon as their mouths touched, Derek shivered under Stiles' hands and made a soft, hungry sound in his throat.

"I can wait as long as you want. I can wait until we get out of here," Stiles whispered, before he kissed him again, and it was a promise in more ways than one.