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by maichan photo SWartthumb_zpseaeb5f71.jpg

One of these days, Derek is going to realize there are some arguments he’s just never going to win.  Today is not that day.

Really, though, he should have known better than to start any conversation with, “Stay in the car, Stiles.”

That set off a monologue whose essential thesis was that Derek, in fact, should stay in the car and let Stiles take care of this.  Derek had tuned out the beginning to reflect on his questionable life choices, but it sounds like Stiles is starting to wind down now.

“…have to let me handle some of these things on my own, and this is the perfect chance.  Because we have been through this before, many times, and she’s not going to listen to you.  Because she wants in your pants.”

Derek cocks an eyebrow.  “Is that why you don’t listen to me?”

“Ha fucking ha,” Stiles says, already opening the passenger door.  “I only don’t listen when your ideas suck.  And I am already firmly installed in your pants.”  Derek keeps his expression impassive and Stiles glares.  “Firmly,” he repeats, before slamming the door for emphasis and striding down the sidewalk and around the corner.

Derek doesn’t need to see them to be able to hear the conversation.

“Stiles, sweetheart, long time no see!  I believe this is the part where I flutter my eyelashes and ask, ‘Is there a problem, Officer?’”

Stiles sighs, but there’s a fondness he can’t seem to keep out of his tone.  “I wouldn’t try to play innocent, Connie.  It’s not one of your strengths.”

“Fair enough.  But you know I’m providing the good people of Beacon Hills with a unique and specialized service.  You wouldn’t deprive them of that, would you?”

“I would when you’re tricking two blocks away from a school zone.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, darling, it’s 11 o’clock at night.  All the impressionable little kiddies have gone to bed.  It’s their fathers I’m waiting for.  And a few of their mothers.”

“I wouldn’t presume to know your clientele, but the residents have been complaining.  You need to move your base of operations.”

“And if I don’t?  Will your delectable partner come over here and arrest me?  I know he’s just around the corner.”

“How about this: if you do move, I’ll make sure Officer Hale gets sent over the next time there’s a noise complaint at your place.  Maybe you can convince him to strip for you, bring out the plastic handcuffs.”

Derek’s hand is on the door handle and he’s just about to storm over there to stop Stiles from pimping him out to the local prostitutes when Connie laughs.

“A cop pretending to be a stripper pretending to be a cop.  That’s precious.  That’s why I like you, Stiles.”

“Enough to move shop out of the neighborhood?”

“Whatever you like.  You don’t even need to bribe me with Derek.  You’re filling out that uniform quite nicely, Officer Stilinski.  Maybe you can help keep the peace when things get out of hand at my place.  And by ‘keep the peace,’ I mean—”

Derek would pay actual money to see Stiles’ face at that moment, but he does get to hear Stiles stutter out, “I… I’ll sleep on it.”

Ooh, even Derek knows that was the wrong thing to say.

Connie laughs even harder.  “You do that, Officer.  I’ll find myself a new street corner away from the delicate flowers of Beacon Hills, don’t you worry.  Now scurry back to your partner.  But don’t be a stranger now.”

Derek listens to the trudging footsteps coming back around the corner and just barely manages to get his amusement under control before the car door opens and Stiles plops down in the seat.

He turns to Derek, his face beet red and glum.  “You heard every word of that, didn’t you?”

“If you need help picking out music for your stripper debut, just let me know,” Derek deadpans, looking Stiles up and down the best he can in the car. “She’s not wrong about the uniform, though.”

Stiles buries his face in his hands.  “Now she’s not going to listen to either of us.”

“Next time we’ll send Officer Greenberg.  If she can flirt her way out of that, she deserves a medal.”

&&&

It is 100% against Beacon Hills Sheriff’s Office policy to allow two officers engaged in a romantic relationship to be partners.  It is also 100% accurate that no one else on the force can last more than three days in a car with Stiles without begging for either a ball gag or the sweet release of death.  Derek’s certain Stiles did it on purpose, systematically verbally terrorizing every other officer until Derek was the only one left, and while everyone does know they’re together, as long as no one talks about it, it’s not technically a problem.

And Derek’s sure that Stiles actually engineered this whole thing in the first place because he really can shut up for more than ten seconds, and when they’re on duty, he’s… well, professional wouldn’t quite be the word for it, but he can absolutely keep his hands to himself and his mind on the job.

“C’mon, Derek,” he’d said.  “I’m the only one who knows what you’re really capable of.  You don’t have to hide anything from me, and you know I’ve got your back.”  As loath as Derek was to admit it, Stiles had a point.

It meant going back to uniformed beat patrols and shitty hours most of the time, but Stiles was still a rookie and needed a partner, preferably one who wouldn’t kill him with his own service weapon.  Derek was so used to working on his own – and the “lone wolf” jokes were probably yet another part of Stiles’ master plan – that he’d forgotten what it was like for somebody to have his back.

And he’s never had a partner who knows, who doesn’t ask questions when Derek goes straight to the stash of coke taped inside the toilet tank  or rips the door clean off a car to get to an accident victim faster.  Stiles has also proven incredibly vital when it comes to damage control – two minutes of talking and he can persuade a witness that there’s no way Derek can see in the dark or rip through a chain link fence or jump a ten-foot wall, that’s just ridiculous, the light’s dim and your eyes are playing tricks on you.

After Derek had basically offered to let Stiles in on the secret in the first place, he realized he’d never actually revealed what he was to someone who didn’t already know.  He nearly balked, but of course he couldn’t dangle something like that in front of Stiles and not expect Stiles to pounce on it like a five-year-old on a pile of Halloween candy.  Or Stiles on a pile of Halloween candy.

He’d made Stiles wait until the night after the, uh, despoiling of the Camaro in the woods (well, the first despoiling; it kind of became a thing after that), back when Stiles was still in the Academy.  Stiles still gives him shit about making it into a dramatic moment, but Derek will take the ribbing if it means he never have to admit that he was nervous.  No, terrified.  That Stiles would take one look at his fangs and his claws– never mind the hairy face – in the bright daylight and run screaming in the other direction.  Or at the very least decide he didn’t want to be with a freak, a monster.

Turns out Derek seriously underestimated Stiles.

Or possibly overestimated him, because after gaping at Derek, half-shifted and lit up only by the headlights of the Camaro and the gibbous moon overhead, for a full minute, Stiles said, “So, basically, you’re Wolverine.”

“…the fuck?” Derek had said.  Or tried to say around retracting fangs.  “No, Stiles, I’m not Wolverine.”

“You so totally are, with the claws and the stubble and gruff exterior hiding a heart of gold—”

And Derek will swear up and down that he didn’t mean to do it, but one leap and suddenly he was right there, lifting Stiles easily with one hand fisted in his shirt.  “I’m faster than Wolverine.  I can smell fear and walk through bullets and hear your heart skip when you’re lying,” he growled, shifting into full beta form.

Stiles squeaked.

Derek dropped him harder than he meant to, but he backed off immediately, convinced he was frightening Stiles. 

Wrong again.

“Oh my god,” Stiles said, picking himself up off the ground and dusting himself off.  “That’s how you… in New York.  All those things you did.  Derek, that’s fucking awesome.  So why’d you come back to this shithole?  Somebody figure it out?”

“No,” Derek sighed, shifting back to human form again.  “But it was only a matter of time.  There was so much I could do, so many people I could help… but there are people that know about us.  That want to kill us just for existing.”

“Us?” Stiles asked, stepping forward.  “How many of you are there?”

Derek snorted.  “We don’t have meetings, Stiles.  But there are at least a few packs in every state.  They’re pretty spread out here in California, and the Hale pack is… was one of the oldest.”

He could see the gears turning in Stiles’ head and braced himself for the barrage of questions that was sure to follow.  But instead, Stiles came out with “Oh my god, Derek.  Those people that want to kill you.  Is that…  Is that why your family…”

“Those people are called hunters,” Derek said quietly, looking away.  “And yes.”

Stiles had his arms around him before Derek even knew what was happening.  For a few seconds, Derek was afraid Stiles was going to keep pushing, ask questions Derek wasn’t ready to answer yet, even if he had just shown more of himself to Stiles than he had to anyone outside his family.  Or maybe worse, say I’m sorry or That’s awful or something else equally meaningless.  But Stiles just held on, burying his face against Derek’s neck like he knew what that meant, like he was part wolf himself.

“Are there still hunters in Beacon Hills?” Stiles asked after a few long minutes.

“Not anymore.  They still have connections here, but when people started getting suspicious in New York… I thought it would be safe to come back.  New York never felt like home.”

Stiles pulled back a little, enough to look Derek in the face but not letting go.  “Promise me something.”

“That depends on what it is.”

“Promise me that if the hunters ever come back, you’ll tell me.”

That was absolutely not what Derek was expecting.  “Stiles…”

“You showed me this for a reason,” Stiles said, his gaze steely.  “Now that I think about it, you’ve been dropping hints practically since we met.  I think you don’t want to be alone anymore.  And I think if you wanted revenge, you’d have taken it a long time ago.  Hell, maybe you did.  You don’t have to say anything.  Just promise me that if you ever have to face that threat again, you’ll at least tell me.”

From his voice alone, Derek knew immediately that Stiles would be willing to do innumerable reckless things to protect him.  He also knew that he wouldn’t be able to hide it from Stiles anyway if the hunters came back – if they did, if they had any brains at all, they’d know Stiles was the way to get to Derek.  Stiles would automatically be in danger, so it was better that he know ahead of time.  Derek sighed again, leaned his forehead against Stiles’.  “Yes.  I will.  But I reserve the right to pull rank on you if you try to do anything stupid.”

“Please, I’m not even a cop yet,” Stiles laughed.  “And you’re allowed to pull my rank whenever you want.  Now show me what else you can do, you sexy beast.”

“As long as you never compare me to Wolverine again.”

“Nah, you’re way hotter than Hugh Jackman.”

Derek absolutely did not preen at that.

&&&

The barrage of questions had started in the car ride back and has yet to stop in the year since.

“Can you bite other people and turn them into werewolves?”

“Only an alpha can do that, and it’s dangerous.”

“What if there’s a full moon on an equinox or there’s an eclipse or something?  Do you get extra wolfy powers?”

“No.”

“How much blood do you have to lose before you can’t heal?”

“I really don’t want to find out.”

“Is there anything that can kill you?”

“I probably shouldn’t tell you that, but… certain types of wolfsbane, yes.  And the kinds of injuries that would kill anyone instantly.”

“Okay, so I looked it up and when real wolves mate, they do this thing where they—”

“Stiles, if you say the word knot, I am going to shove you out of this car and I am not going to slow down first.”

Surprisingly, he has yet to ask whether werewolves mate for life.  If he did, Derek would have to admit that he doesn’t know.

&&&

Officially, they don’t live together.  Stiles’ address is still his mom’s house.  But somehow, most of his stuff has managed to migrate into Derek’s apartment, and it’s a good thing Derek didn’t have many worldly possessions to begin with, because the apartment’s not that big and Stiles’ things, much like Stiles, have a tendency to spread out to occupy whatever space he’s given.

But there’s something comforting about having Stiles’ scent permeating nearly every room, even if it’s just because he left his dirty socks in the bathroom again.  It makes the bland little apartment feel like home in a way that even living with Laura hadn’t.  Derek tries not to dwell too much on that.

Especially not when he and Stiles are laying in a tangle of sheets, Stiles a sweaty, fucked-out, grinning wreck, smelling of deep satisfaction and tracing Derek’s collarbone with the tip of his finger.  “Tell me a story,” he’ll say, mouthing at the spot on Derek’s neck that still makes him shiver even after he’s spent.

He knows Stiles would listen to anything and wants to hear everything.  Especially things that happened before Derek left Beacon Hills as a teenager.  But there’s so much he can’t say, not because he doesn’t trust Stiles, but because the words just won’t form.  So he tells Stiles about New York, about scaling scaffolding to bust into a drug dealer’s seventh-story window.  About taking an entire clip full of bullets from an armed robber who simply dropped his gun in shock when Derek just kept coming at him.

And it feels so good to have somebody to tell those stories to after all that time spent making up plausible lies just so he could keep doing his job, keep helping people.  Before they started getting suspicious in New York, they called him a hero.  Stiles has never used that word.  He just listens for once, only cutting in with the occasional laugh or oh my god or awesome.  Then, when Derek is done, Stiles cups his face and kisses him for a long time, whispers “G’night,” and rolls over to go to sleep.

&&&

“If you’re a beta, that means you’ve got to have an alpha, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, you can’t just say ‘yeah’ and stop there.”

“It’s my older sister, Laura.”

“Oh, cool.  Is she in Beacon Hills, too?”

“No, she’s still in New York.”

“Didn’t want to come back to the old stompin’ grounds, huh?”

“After the fire, she… she didn’t deal so well.”

“Oh.  Shit.”

“Yeah.”

&&&

Beacon Hills is not New York City.  Derek likes that he can focus on one thing at a time, not worrying about all the other people who he could be helping but can’t because he’s can’t be in two places at once.  Being out of the spotlight is a huge relief, too, and even though he has some seriously bad memories of Beacon Hills, he has good ones, too.  It’s his home.

It’s also boring as shit a lot of the time.  There was paperwork in New York – there’s paperwork fucking everywhere – but it seems particularly obnoxious now.  And Stiles is unpredictable when it comes to helping out; sometimes he’s laser-focused and tears through it all in half an hour, sometimes he stares at one sheet for minutes on end and Derek can tell he’s thinking about Batman fighting Iron Man or something.

As for the actual police work, it’s about what you’d expect for a small town: juvenile delinquents (Derek loves making Stiles handle those little brats; it’s the most satisfying payback he can imagine) and traffic accidents and a surprising amount of meth that actually isn’t all that surprising, statistically speaking.  And domestic dispute calls.

The first night they got a domestic out on patrol, Derek shot a quick look at Stiles.  His face wasn’t giving anything away, but his heart rate shot up and after a moment, he started to sweat.  It didn’t sound like a bad one – no weapons reported, just neighbors calling in loud fighting – but Derek didn’t know how to handle it.  Or rather, how to handle Stiles, who was obviously thinking of his father.  He hadn’t been sheriff long when he’d been shot while responding to what was supposed to be a routine domestic.  Stiles had only been ten.

They pulled up to the house and Derek didn’t need werewolf hearing to know that the fight was still going on and that breakable things were involved.  He took a longer look at Stiles, who was still stone-faced.  “Hey,” Derek started, “if you want to sit this one out—”

“Don’t,” Stiles said, a little quietly.  He smelled of anxiety but not fear, and Derek knew Stiles was going to have to face this sooner or later.  They got a disheartening number of these calls, though very few were truly dangerous.

Derek took the lead, and for a moment, he thought Stiles would stay in the car.  But Stiles got out, took a deep breath, and gave Derek a solemn nod.  He hung back a little – which he should have been doing most of the time anyway as a rookie, but usually didn’t – standing at the base of the stairs as Derek knocked on the front door.

The couple was young, and they seemed shocked at the sight of Derek’s uniform – probably their first time getting called out.  But neither was accusing the other of violence, just an argument that got out of hand, and Derek couldn’t hear a lie or smell injury on either of them, so he strongly advised that they leave the dishes out of it and that the guy go crash on his brother’s couch for the night.  And when Derek strongly advised something in his Cop Voice, people tended to listen.

Stiles stayed mostly silent, scribbling occasionally in his notebook more for something to do than because anything needed documenting.  When they got back in the car, he stayed silent for a long time.  Eventually, he asked, “Are they always like that?”

“Most of them,” Derek said.  “Seventy-five percent are just noise.  You’re going to see signs of abuse sometimes, though, and people who don’t want to press charges when they clearly should.  If there are visible injuries, we can hold the other party for 24 hours, which usually gives them time to cool off.  But we’ll be warned if… if there’s reports of a weapon.”

“That they know of,” Stiles muttered.

“That they know of,” Derek repeated, not sure what else to say.  The inside of the car was quiet for a long time.

“What do you do?” Stiles asked at the end of their shift.  “When there’s a fire?”

Derek wanted to help Stiles, give him advice, but he didn’t know how.  “I do my job,” was all he said.

Stiles kissed Derek then, pressed his hand over Derek’s heart.  Derek dropped Stiles off to stay at his mom’s house that night.

&&&

Mrs. Stilinski knows about them.  Of course she does; she knew even before Stiles graduated from the Academy.  And mostly she seems okay with it, because Derek’s a nice boy who’s been through a lot and come out the other side stronger, and also because she knows everyone at the Sheriff’s Office and could get him knocked down to permanent crosswalk duty if he so much as makes Stiles’ lower lip wobble.

Of course, it would have helped if she hadn’t found out that Stiles was gay and dating Derek at the same time, but nothing about that is Derek’s fault.  Nothing.

“Mom,” Stiles had said with surprising calm from where he was seated in Derek’s lap on the couch, erection pressed hard against Derek’s stomach and lips swollen from hungry kisses.  “There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.  Okay, two things.”

Mrs. Stilinski, who was supposed to be at work for another three hours, I swear to god, Derek, set down her purse, blinked a few times, and asked, “And you managed to land him right out of the gate?”

Stiles grinned uncertainly.  “Um, because I totally take after you?”

Mrs. Stilinski sighed.  “Well, at least Derek knows what he’s getting into.”

“Uh, ma’am,” Derek said with a nod by way of greeting.  At that point he and Stiles hadn’t even done anything with their clothes off yet.

She rolled her eyes.  “Stiles, I’m going into the kitchen.  You have exactly one minute – no more – to get yourself in order, and then we’re going to talk.”

“I’ll just be going then,” Derek muttered, slowly extracting his hand from the back of Stiles’ pants.

“Not a chance, Officer Hale,” she snapped.  “You’re staying for dinner.  Non-negotiable.”

Through Stiles’ groan of embarrassment, he could hear Mrs. Stilinski in the other room, chuckling and muttering something about Janice is going to shit a brick.

&&&

“Which one of us is going to look more out of place in there?” Stiles asks, gesturing at the club.  Even outside, the music is so loud that he has to shout.

Derek looks down at his own jeans and leather jacket.  Then he looks at Stiles in his hoodie and baggy cords.  “You don’t even look like you’re old enough to go in there.”

Stiles pulls his badge out of the pocket of his hoodie, briefly flashing it at Derek before tucking it into the back pocket of his pants.  “Well, this says I am.  Also, I can be ready to party at a moment’s notice.  You… you look like you’re ready to rip someone’s throat out.”

“This is how I always look.”

“Um, that’s kind of my point.”

Derek rolls his eyes.   “Stiles, this isn’t a sting operation.  He’s got an outstanding arrest warrant.  We can just walk in there and get him.”

“We both know he’ll try to run again, and it’s so packed and sweaty in there even you can’t scent him out.”

“Stiles…”

“This guy’s a petty thief, not a serial killer.”  He stares Derek down, and for a second he looks like an actual cop, even in plainclothes.  “C’mon, Derek, you have to start trusting me with stuff like this.”

Goddamn it, he has a point.  And sometimes Derek wonders if their partnership really isn’t a good idea, because by this point he’d probably be pushing any other rookie to show more independence.  “Fine.  You’ve got ten minutes before I come in there after you.”

Stiles strips off the hoodie, balling it up and shoving it at Derek’s chest.  The white v-neck underneath is a little too tight across his shoulders, around his biceps, and it’s rucked up at the hem to show a strip of pale skin just above the low rise of his pants.  “Make it fifteen.  I need some time to work the ol’ Stilinski magic.”

Derek doesn’t even bother to ask what the hell he’s talking about.  Stiles just has to ask the guy for a smoke or something to get him out of the building where arresting him won’t cause a scene.  And out in the open, where there’s no chance of him outrunning or hiding from Derek.

He leans against the wall, pretending to dick around on his phone while he watches the minutes tick by.  Seven minutes in, he’s doing deep breathing exercises and convincing himself that nothing could possibly go horribly wrong.  Eleven minutes in, he’s ready to charge into the building, gun drawn.

He pockets his phone to do just that when the door opens and the guy comes out.  It takes Derek a second to recognize him, not because it’s dark (which it is, but that’s not an issue) but because he’s walking backwards, tugging Stiles along with him.  Stiles is grinning, leans in to whisper something in the guy’s ear and the guy visibly shivers and drags his mouth across Stiles’ jawline—

Derek yanks the guy’s arms so hard he stumbles backwards, almost taking Stiles with him from his grip on Stiles’ belt loops.  The guy looks confused and terrified until Stiles smirks and pulls out his badge and Derek cuffs him and begins to read him his rights.  Then he just looks terrified because maybe Derek is growling him his rights.  A little bit.

They drag him around the corner to where the Camaro is parked and Derek sort of regrets that the guy’s already cuffed and Derek can’t shove him up against the car.  (Though that’s usually something Stiles tries to do – too many cop shows as a kid – with reliably hilarious results.)  Instead, he just tosses the guy in the backseat and slams the door so hard the car rocks.

Stiles has circled around to the passenger side by then and glares over the top of the car at Derek.  “Jesus, you didn’t have to beat him up.  I know I’m pretty new at this, but I think that’s the kind of thing that’s frowned upon, police brutality and all.”

“And you didn’t have to fucking seduce him,” Derek grumbles, pitching Stiles’ hoodie back at him.

Stiles catches it and laughs.  “Oh my god, is that what this is about?  Seriously?”  Derek just glowers.  “He looked like he was kind of into me, and that was the quickest way to get him out.  I can’t help it if I’m totally irresistible.”

Stiles gets into the car, and Derek has to take another deep, cleansing breath before he can do the same.  Tonight he’s either going to completely ignore Stiles out of spite or fuck him into the mattress until he’s clawing at Derek’s back and gasping his name.

Derek goes with the latter.

&&&

“Did you ever use your werewolf powers to spy on me?  Y’know, back in the day?”

“What, you mean back when you were Beacon Hills’ most wanted?”

“Because there’s no way you just happened to be out by the water tower that night.”

“Stiles, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“That’s a little creepy, dude.  And I want my fireworks back.”

“Too late.  The Sheriff’s Office had a hell of a Fourth of July barbecue last summer.”

“Goddamn it.”

&&&

“What the hell is a ‘Stiles’?”

Laura never could answer the phone with a simple hello.  “I’ll let you know when I figure it out,” Derek says dryly.  He’s beginning to regret texting his sister about Stiles.

“What do you want, Derek?”

“I can’t call my big sister just to say hello?”

Silence.  He can almost hear her eyebrows doing that thing.

“All right, fine.  I’m not going to be able to fly out to see you like I’d planned.  We’re understaffed and I don’t think I can get away.  I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Laura snaps, but Derek hears the slight uptick in her heartbeat.
 
It’s been two and a half years since he left New York, and he’s only been back once.  He and Laura aren’t close, not by any kind of normal definition of “close,” but they were, for years, the only thing that the other had.  It started going downhill when Derek’s career started to take off, when he saved that little girl and suddenly began getting attention.  He and Laura had argued about it endlessly – he talked about the help he could do (the penance, they both knew but never said the word), she talked about the publicity endangering them both. 

When Derek’s superiors started to get a little suspicious and he had to leave, Laura took it as confirmation that she’d been right all along.  And when he’d told her he was moving back to Beacon Hills, she looked at him like he was dangerously insane.

Still, she’d let him go.  She’s his alpha, always will be, and she could have kept him there.  Made him give up his job, even though most of the time it was the only thing that kept him from going off the rails, or moved them both to somewhere new.  But she let him go like it was the last favor she was ever going to do him, and it still hurts.  It’s not right for him to be so far away from his packmate, his alpha, the only family he has left.  Even Stiles has picked up on it, the restlessness that grips Derek sometimes, though he hasn’t pushed Derek to talk about it.

So even though Derek knows what the answer’s going to be, he has to ask.  “You could always come visit me here, you know.  I’d like that.  And there are people here… people who welcomed me back.  They’d do the same for you.”

“Not all of us are heroes,” she spits out, like it’s a filthy word.  “I’m never going back to that place.  And I’ll never understand how you could.”

She hangs up, just like that, and the disconnection hits Derek like a visceral blow.  He stands there, in the middle of his living room, staring at his phone like he could fix this if only he tried hard enough, knew the right words to say.

He’s so lost in thought that he doesn’t even hear the unmistakably familiar stomping up the stairs.  The knock on the door is what finally snaps him back to reality, and he opens it to find Stiles – who has a key, what the hell – standing there with an enormous pizza box.

“Did somebody order a pizza?” he asks in what he refers to as his “sexy voice.”  The eyebrow waggle doesn’t help.  “Extra sausage?”

Derek grabs the pizza box, sets it aside, and hugs Stiles so hard he lifts him a foot off the ground.

“Oh my god,” Stiles wheezes, arms wrapping around Derek’s neck.  “Next time I’m totally springing for the breadsticks, too.”

&&&

“He’s my best friend and I’m happy for him, but if he doesn’t shut up about her for five minutes, I’m going to disembowel him with a shrimp fork.  Ooh, or you could bite him.  Nowhere, like, vital or anything.  I know it wouldn’t turn him, but it’d be fun.  Y’know, for me.”

Derek has his own feelings about Scott, few of them positive.  It’s not like he started it.  He doesn’t try to listen in on Stiles’ phone conversations, but Derek knows Scott refers to him as “Creeper Cop,” and the few times they’ve all tried to hang out have been… well, awkward would be generous.  Derek has the weird feeling Scott thinks Derek stole Stiles’ virtue or something and that’s not… That upsets Derek on many levels, several of them bitey.

But he’s Stiles’ best friend.  When he moved back to Beacon Hills, right before Stiles started at the Academy, Derek could see the change immediately.  Something about Stiles just brightened, and anyone who makes Stiles happy is worth having around.  So Derek sucks it up and grumbles, “I’m not going to bite him.  Probably.” 

Okay, perhaps that was not as enthusiastically supportive as it could have been.

Stiles types away at the laptop, filling out the forms for the party they just broke up – noise complaints, underage drinking, one kid hopped up on peyote or some damn thing and thoughtfully eating a bouquet of carnations.  He’s safely in an ambulance, and now Stiles has to write it all up.  Derek smiles to himself; there are occasional perks to having a rookie for a partner.

But somehow Stiles can bitch and type at the same time.  “I mean, he had a couple of ‘things’ – I’m not even going to call them relationships, they were clusterfucks – in high school, and he always went a little overboard.  But this is just… I mean, he met her at the beginning of the semester.  That’s almost three months ago and he still won’t shut the hell up.  ‘Allison’s a championship archer.  Allison’s hair is like a chestnut waterfall.  Allison loves animals, too.’  Because you know there are so many people out there that just hate animals.  I swear to god, he’s like a middle school girl.  I don’t even want to see his notebooks.  He’s probably in class doodling in his notebook ‘Scott McCall-Argent.’  No, screw that, he’s just going to change his name to Scott Argent.”

Derek’s hands go loose on the wheel and he starts to drift into the next lane.  He catches himself almost immediately, but then pulls over to come to a halt on the side of the road.

Gahhhh, what the fuck, Derek?” Stiles yelps, arms wrapping around the laptop.  “If this breaks, you know they’re going to make me pay for it.”

It feels like Derek’s chest is caving in.  “Argent?” is all he can get out.

Stiles looks at him warily, and Derek knows his eyes have probably gone incandescent.  “Yes,” Stiles says slowly.  “That’s Allison’s last name.”

It can’t be a coincidence.  It can’t.  “Where does she come from?  Who’s her family?”

“I… what?  I don’t know, she didn’t mention any brothers or sisters.”

“Her parents.”  Derek can feel his fangs lengthening and he’s gripping the console so hard the plastic cracks under his hands.  “Who are her parents?”

“I don’t know!” Stiles says, putting his back against the door and the laptop out in front of him like a shield.  “I’ve only met her twice.  She started at Beacon Hills Community College the same time as Scott, but they just met a few months ago.  I mostly hear about her eyes and her hair and her voice and— Derek, what the hell?”

Stiles’ heartbeat is through the roof and his sweat stinks of fear.  Fuck, fuck, Derek is scaring him.  He’s scaring Stiles.  He has to get out of here.  Derek tears through his seatbelt with claws he didn’t realize had come out and stumbles out the door of the car.  He staggers dazedly toward the treeline, the woods pitch black to human vision, and tries to remember if there was an Allison.  He can’t…  He can only remember Kate.  She had a brother, but Derek never even knew the brother’s name.  He was older, Derek thinks, could have a kid around Stiles’ age, maybe.  Would sure as hell teach her to shoot a bow and arrow if he were training her—

By the time he realizes Stiles is calling his name, fumbling towards Derek in the dark, Derek is panting and his claws are deeply embedded in the tree he’s leaning against.

“Derek!  Derek, fucking— I’m sorry!  I don’t know what I did, but I’m sorry!  Where are you?  Please, Derek, I can’t see you and I left my fucking flashlight in the car because I’m an idiot.  Are you okay?  I’m so sorry.”

“Stop—” Derek gasps.  “Stop apologizing.  It’s not your fault.  And stay still.  You’ll trip over something.”

“Oh my god, Derek, you can’t just… just wolf out on me in the car and go running into the woods and then snap at me for coming after you.  You scared the hell out of me.”

“I’m sorry,” Derek says, too softly, but Stiles hears him anyway and stops moving about thirty feet away from Derek.

“It’s… it’s okay.  I mean, I’m okay.  You’re not, obviously.  Do you—okay, this is kind of fucked up because it’s not the time or the place and I can’t actually see you, but do you want to talk about it?”

Derek really, really doesn’t.  But he promised Stiles.  And something about the dark, about being able to see Stiles gesture madly (facing about thirty degrees off from Derek’s actual position in front of him) while Stiles can’t see him, makes it a little easier to talk.  “There’s a family named Argent.  They’re hunters.”

Stiles freezes, his heart practically tripping over itself.  “But not the ones who—”

“Yes.  One of them.”

“But… Allison seems so nice,” Stiles says after a long moment.

“Kate seemed nice, too,” Derek whispers, and this time he’s sure Stiles didn’t hear him.

“We— Shit.  This is not good.  Okay,” Stiles says, his voice firm and certain. “Okay.  We will deal with this.  But you need to come back.  If you need to, I don’t know, wolf around in the woods first, that’s cool.  I get it.”  His voice softens.  “I’ll be waiting in the car.  I won’t go anywhere until you get back.”

 Then he turns around, takes two steps, and runs smack into a tree.

Derek is there to catch him before he even finishes shouting “Motherfucker!”

“What have I told you?” Derek says, his tone more fond than scolding.  “Never leave the car without your gun and your flashlight.”

“I remembered my gun,” Stiles grumbles, gripping Derek’s biceps a little harder than he needs to.  “You want me to use that?”

“Come on, let’s get you back to the car,” Derek says, steering them both safely out of the woods.

When they can see the car’s headlights pointing down the stretch of deserted road, Stiles stops and turns to face Derek.  “Listen, I’ll find out as much as I can.  Allison is Scott’s favorite subject and he’s, like, the least suspicious person on the face of the earth.  Plus, Google.”  He hesitates.  “Is… there a particular name I should be looking for in connection with Allison’s family?”

Derek’s voice, when it comes out, is cracked and hoarse.  “Kate.  Kate Argent.”

Stiles has that expression he always gets right before he’s about to pester Derek with questions… but then he puts a hand on Derek’s chest and he’s got to be able feel the way Derek’s heart is about to beat its way right out of his ribcage.  Stiles just nods.  “Got it.  Are you… are you good for right now?  Because it’s okay if you’re not.”

“I didn’t mean to scare you,” Derek murmurs.

“I know.”  Stiles’ hand squeezes a little in the fabric of Derek’s shirt.  “I only have one more question and then I’ll shut up.”  He takes a deep breath, and Derek steels himself.  “How fucked up is my face?  Like, too fucked up for me to kiss you right now?  Because I want to do that, but not if I have, like, Harvey Dent face.”

Derek feels like a weight’s been lifted off his chest, and there are a thousand right things he could say, should say, but instead he just carefully presses a soft kiss to Stiles’ mouth, which (thank god) escaped any damage from the tree – just a few scrapes on his nose and cheek that probably hurt worse than they look.

Stiles sighs, his eyes closed, and gently bumps his nose against Derek’s.  It could almost be a nuzzle.  Then, softly: “You didn’t answer my question, dude.”

&&&

After Derek told him about being a werewolf, Stiles got bolder in bed.  Not that he was ever shy, really, but he became less concerned with his own inexperience, more willing to take charge.

“So have you been holding out on me?” he asked between biting, sucking kisses where he was draped across Derek’s body.

“What?”  Frankly, Derek had been focused on trying to get Stiles to quit squirming long enough for Derek to thrust up into the groove of his hip, get some friction on his hardening cock.

“I mean, do you have, like, super-stamina that you’ve been hiding from me?”

Derek cocked an eyebrow, held Stiles’ hips still.  “I’m sorry, are you trying to register a complaint?  Because if you want to talk stamina—”

“Shut your mouth, I’m totally getting better at that,” Stiles grumbled, biting hard enough at Derek’s shoulder that Derek had to clamp down on a gasp.  “And you know I have zero complaints.  I guess I’m just saying… if you were holding back before, you don’t have to.”

The truth is that Derek probably hadn’t been holding back enough.  Stiles gets him going like no one else ever has.  If Stiles had more experience (outside of porn), he’d probably know that most people weren’t strong enough or flexible enough to do half the things they’ve done.  It was quite possible that Derek had set the bar way too high, ruined Stiles for anyone else, and that thought… that thought shouldn’t make Derek rock hard and proud enough to howl.

A growl rumbled up through his chest and Stiles moaned, rutting gracelessly against Derek’s abs for a few seconds before reaching for the lube.  “That’s what I’m talking about.”

Then Stiles was riding him, hands planted on Derek’s chest.  They’d done it like that before, but Stiles had always been a little bit hesitant, a little self-conscious, and holy god, a totally shameless Stiles was fucking gorgeous.

Maybe Stiles had been the one who was holding back, and now that Derek had opened up to him, this was the result: Stiles’ blunt nails digging into Derek’s skin, Stiles’ head thrown back, eyes closed and mouth open as he shoved himself down over and over onto Derek’s cock until Derek growled again, planted his feet against the bed and thrust up, so hard it lifted Stiles right off his knees.

Stiles’ eyes flew open, a helpless noise of pleasure punching out of him.  He barely got a hand around his cock before he came, thick stripes landing across Derek’s chest as Derek followed right behind him, Stiles’ clenching muscles milking him dry.

For once, Stiles didn’t complain about the mess, just carefully pulled off Derek’s cock and flopped forward to sprawl on top of him.  He snuffled a laugh and slapped Derek weakly on the shoulder.  “You were totally holding out on me.”

&&&

When Stiles comes back to Derek’s apartment after hanging out with Scott, he looks calm, maybe just a little bit pale.  But Derek can hear his heart racing, smell the anxiety in the sweat on the back of his neck.  Thankfully, he doesn’t try to talk around it, just spits out “Allison has an aunt named Kate” as soon as Derek closes the door.

When Derek doesn’t immediately say anything, Stiles flops down on the couch.  “Her parents are Chris and Victoria.  They moved to Beacon Hills just before Allison’s senior year of high school, so about a year and a half ago.  She was in my graduating class, but… well, it wasn’t like I spent much time with my graduating class.  I’m not entirely sure where they were before that, but I get a sense that they move around a lot.  Kate rarely even stays in one place for a year at a time – Allison’s not sure where she is now, they don’t talk a lot, but she thinks maybe San Diego.”

Derek’s still standing dumbly by the door, trying to process all of it.  Chris must have been the brother that Kate mentioned but never named.  “How did you get all of that?  You didn’t interrogate Allison, did you?  Did she seem suspicious?”

Stiles rolls his eyes.  “Give me some credit here.  I got Scott to go off on a rant about his crazy cousin that monitors his every move on Facebook, and from there we started talking about our more eccentric family members.  The rest was just basic conversational skills.  You know, for when the growling and the threatening just isn’t going to cut it.”

“I don’t always—” Derek starts, even though he does sometimes, but there are more important things to focus on.  “You’re sure Allison didn’t suspect anything?”

“No, I’m not sure sure.  But I never said your name and Scott just refers to you as ‘Creeper Cop.’ Well, he tries not to refer to you at all.  But if Allison knows about the hunting thing – or anything weird about her family – she’s doing a pretty good job of hiding it.”

So did Kate, Derek thinks, but he doesn’t say it.

“I mean, I don’t know her all that well,” Stiles continues, “and believe me, I know that appearances can be deceiving, but I didn’t get that gut feeling that there was anything off about Allison.  It sounds stupid, but she seemed so… nice.  Like, a genuinely kind person.  Is there a chance she really doesn’t know about the hunting?”

“I don’t know,” Derek says softly, coming to sit down on the other side of the couch.  “All I know is there’s some type of code.  I think the children aren’t told anything about it until they turn 17, and then they’re given a choice.  They’re supposed to be free to say no as long as they keep the family secret, but… they’re also not supposed to take the life of a supernatural being unless it’s spilled human blood.”

Derek hears Stiles shift around on the couch, but he doesn’t come closer, doesn’t try to touch Derek.  When Derek looks up, Stiles seems to be fighting with himself whether to go to Derek or give him space.  Derek can practically see the wheels spinning.  He knows he’s only given Stiles pieces to go on, and also that Stiles won’t rest until he’s put them together.  But as much shit as Derek has worked through and come out the other side, he’s not sure he can say it out loud.  Shame that he hasn’t felt in a long time rushes in and closes off his throat until he’s having to fight for air.

That must make up Stiles’ mind for him, because he slides next to Derek on the couch, looping an arm around Derek and resting his head on his shoulder.  “Okay,” he says softly.  “If I’m around Allison again, I’ll be really, really careful.”

“Thank you,” Derek manages to get out.

“The rest of it you can tell me on your own time, when you’re ready.  But do me a favor.  If there’s something you need from me, something I can do to help, tell me.  I’ll do anything I can if it keeps you safe.”

That, Derek thinks, is the problem.

&&&

They have the day off, but it’s time for Derek’s handgun recertification, and he figures he might as well get it over with in the morning.  He’s kind enough to let Stiles sleep in, even though Stiles makes a whimper and a weak grab for him when he gets out of bed.  But by the time Derek’s out of the shower, Stiles is out cold once again.

Derek envies that, how easily and deeply Stiles can sleep.

It takes longer at the firing range than he anticipated – of course it does, anything involving weapons and paperwork takes longer than it should – and by the time he’s free, it’s lunch time.  He swings by the deli that they always manage to stop at during shifts; Derek is a creature of habit, and though Stiles occasionally begs to go somewhere new, Derek knows for a fact that, when they have to go long hours without eating, Stiles develops feelings for this deli’s chicken salad sandwich. 

Feelings which he sometimes sings about.  Thank god it’s Derek, who can focus his hearing on ambient road sounds, in the car with him, because otherwise Stiles would find his mouth duct-taped shut on a regular basis.

Margene grins at him from behind the counter as she wraps up one roast beef on rye and one chicken salad on sourdough to go.  “What did you do with the cutie, Officer Hale?”

“We have the day off.  Stiles is probably still asleep.”

“Ah, well,” she says, handing him the bag of sandwiches, “you go give him a nice surprise to wake up to.”  And then she gives him the filthiest wink he’s ever seen.  Margene is at least 70, but she could give leering lessons to Connie Lingus.  Derek drops a ten on the counter and zips out of there.

Derek figures it’s a fifty-fifty shot whether Stiles is awake, but he doesn’t expect to find Stiles hard at work on something at the kitchen table, papers and photographs spread out in front of him and earbuds in.  He’s playing his “thinking” music, which Derek doesn’t need werewolf ears to hear from across the room.

Derek plops the paper bag down on the other end of the table and Stiles jumps about a foot in the air.  “Jesus!” he yelps, scooping up a pile of photographs and shoving them under a file folder even before he yanks the earbuds out.  “You could try making some noise when you come in next time.”

“Or you could try not listening to your Swedish death metal cranked up to eleven.  What are you looking at that you don’t want me to see, anyway?”

Stiles flushes, biting his lower lip as he quickly shuts his iPod off.  “It’s not that I don’t want you to…  I mean, you’ve probably seen it before, but…”

Derek rounds the table just enough to see HALE written on the official police file and stops cold.  “I haven’t seen it before.”

Stiles’ face immediately morphs into confusion.  “You mean you never looked at the case file on your family’s— on the fire?”

Derek shakes his head.  He knows who did it and why.  “There was never enough evidence to even make an arrest.”

“Yeah, but you could still have—”

“What did you hide?”

Now Stiles can’t meet Derek’s eyes.  “There are pictures.  Photographs of the scene.  Even I couldn’t look at all of them.”

Derek doesn’t know how to feel about this.  Or rather, he feels everything at once – anger, fear, grief, anxiety, and worst, that last tiny shred of hope – and he can’t pick just one.  Stiles has access to all the old police files, and he’s allowed to check them out of the station.  He’s only trying to help, Derek knows that, but it might as well be blood spilled all over the table for what it does to Derek’s insides.

Eventually, he realizes that he’s been quiet for a long time and Stiles is glancing cautiously at him, reeking of worry.  “Are you mad at me?” he asks, voice cracking.

With a deep breath, Derek says, “No.  Not at you.  But I wish you had asked me first.”

Stiles nods, some of the tension flowing out of his shoulders.  “I’m sorry, I should have.  And I didn’t mean for you to walk in on all this, I just wanted to take a look at what there was on record before I talked to you in any detail.”

All Derek has told Stiles about the fire has been a few vague comments about hunters and the night he let slip with Kate’s name.  He’s told himself he’s been protecting Stiles – he’ll never forget what happened when Stiles found that old newspaper photo of his father practically hugging Derek the night of the fire.  But obviously Derek’s also protecting himself from a wound that will probably never heal.

Stiles pushes out a chair for Derek: a peace offering, maybe.  “If you’ve never looked at the file, you probably didn’t know… Derek, Kate was a suspect.”

What?”  Derek sits down and pulls the file toward him.

“Yeah.  About a month before the fire, a woman matching Kate’s description sat down at a bar next to, get this, my high school chemistry teacher and started asking him all these weird questions about combining chemicals to make a fire that would be nearly impossible to put out.  Apparently, he was half in the bag and lonely – because he’s a dickhead – and told her a bunch of stuff to impress her.  At least he came forward after the fire and sat down with a sketch artist who drew her face and some detailed pendant she was wearing.  They showed the picture around and eventually got a name to go with it.”

Derek shuts his eyes, his insides clenching, but when he does, all he can see is the pendant.  He’d asked about it and she’d never told him what it meant, but he remembers it swinging above him as she—

“Derek.  Derek.  You okay?”

When Derek opens his eyes, Stiles’ face is raw with worry and his arm his half-outstretched, like he wants to touch Derek but isn’t sure if it’s a good idea.  Derek pulls away a little.  He sees the brief moment of hurt cross Stiles’ face as he pulls his hand back, but Derek can’t quite deal with being touched at the moment.  Instead, he asks, “Was she brought in for questioning?”

Stiles shakes his head, all business again.  “That’s the weird thing.  She had skipped town by then and gone to Seattle.  Which would ordinarily not be a problem, but everything they dug up indicated that she’d moved there two weeks before the fire.  She had moved into an apartment, there are credit card receipts, everything, even for the night of the fire.”

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Derek notes the fact that Stiles keeps using the generic “they,” even though his father probably worked on the case.  “I’ve always known she didn’t act alone.  There’s an entire network of hunters, and not all of them follow the Code.  She could easily have gone up there to be seen moving in and then come back.  What are the receipts for?”

Stiles quirks a little grin like he always does when they’re following the same train of thought for once.  “Gas stations, self check-outs at grocery stores.  Always small purchases.  Always things—”

“—that wouldn’t require a signature or ID,” Derek finishes.  “Anyone could have been using that card.”

Suddenly Stiles’ face drops again.  “Did, um.  Did you see her?  I know you weren’t at the house at the time, but was she around that night?”

“I saw her earlier in the day.”  He remembers eating lunch outside that day, seeing her leaning against her car and watching him from the parking lot.  She did that sometimes, but this time when he waved, she didn’t wave back.  “But I know she was there.  Even if she got some lackeys to set the actual fire, she would’ve wanted to be there to watch it burn.”

Stiles tilts his head ever so slightly, his expression faintly curious.  Derek can tell he wants to ask how he knows this about Kate.  Hell, Derek hasn’t even explained how he knows that Kate was the one who set the fire; Stiles has just been taking Derek’s word for it without any evidence, however circumstantial, until today.  And yeah, he pulled that file without asking Derek first, but the trust he puts in Derek, not just to protect him but to tell him the truth, is kind of staggering.  Derek has no idea what to say.

But Stiles doesn’t ask.  He just carefully puts the papers back in the folder, turning the photographs face down, and sets the whole thing aside.  “I think that’s enough of that for right now.”  He nods at the paper bag still sitting at the other end of the table.  “You brought lunch?”

“I… yeah.”  Derek shakes his head a little to clear it.  “Margene from the deli says… terrible things.  Honest to god, does everyone in this town know we’re dating?”

Stiles grins.  “Pretty much.  It’s the way you make googly eyes at me in public.”

“I do not—” Derek starts, realizes it’s futile.  “Fine, I’ll eat both sandwiches.”

“No!  I apologize.  I am filled with remorse and contrition.”  He makes grabby hands when Derek brings the bag over.  “As long as you got me chicken salad.”

When Stiles unwraps the sandwich and takes a huge bite, he sighs deeply with pleasure as Derek watches.  Then he fixes Derek with a look.  “See?” he mumbles, food stuffed in one bulging cheek.  “Googly eyes.”

&&&

They spend the rest of the day goofing off in their own ways, comfortable enough with each other to spend time together without actually being together.  Derek reads while Stiles plays games on his phone.  Eventually, Stiles goes over to Scott’s (no Allison this time, he’d assured Derek) and after dinner, Derek goes on a run.  A long, hard run through the Preserve, using his muscles in ways he hasn’t done in weeks, trying to push the what-ifs out of his head.  It only partially works

Kate had been a suspect all along.  Derek could have had copies of the file sent to him in New York, maybe used some of his clout to get the case re-examined by the Beacon Hills police once he realized that Kate’s alibi was shaky.  In truth, he never even tried to find Kate.  At first, he and his sister were so busy trying to stay safe and hold themselves together that nothing else mattered.  Then Derek went into the Academy and found a way to do penance and good at the same time, while Laura remained wrapped up in the pain in a way Derek could never quite break through.  If Derek had bothered to find out that Kate was on the BHSO’s radar, he might have been able to make a statement, keep the investigation going…

He still could, in theory, but the case had gone cold and then-Officer Stilinski – who had in fact been the lead investigator on the case, according to the file – was dead.  If Derek said something now, if he could bring himself to say something now, his colleagues would wonder why he’d never said anything before.  And his colleagues, including Stiles, would know.

Derek lives with himself because he has to.  It doesn’t mean he’s forgiven himself.

When he returns to the apartment, it’s later than he’d intended and Stiles is already back.  He’s actually already in bed, reading by lamplight, when Derek tromps in, too sweaty and exhausted to be stealthy.  Stiles gives him a look of concern, but Derek just nods toward the bathroom and starts stripping off and Stiles keeps reading.

By the time Derek’s out of the shower, Stiles has turned the lights out, but Derek doesn’t even have to listen to his heartbeat to know he’s awake.  He silently pulls the covers back for Derek and reaches out to tug Derek close.  Without really meaning to, Derek ends up curled in on himself, his head resting on Stiles’ chest.  There’s a light scent of arousal coming from Stiles, but he’s making no move to act on it, just tenderly stroking his fingers through Derek’s damp hair.  “Out running?” he asks.

“Yeah.”

“Feel good?”

Derek doesn’t know whether Stiles is asking about the run or this, right here, but the answer to both is the same.  “Yeah.”

He feels the muscle under him shift as Stiles bends to kiss the crown of his head, then nuzzle gently into his hair and Derek has to bite back on a sob.  In the long years after his world turned upside down, he’s found some measure of redemption and worth and even acceptance.  But never this feeling of safety and freedom from his own self-judgment, no matter how fleeting.  Never peace.

He falls asleep to the steady beat of Stiles’ heart.

&&&

It’s been a quiet night on patrol, all the crazies seemingly pursuing their illegal activities silently and indoors.  They’re parked at a Dairy Queen and Stiles is supposed to be filling out a report for the car they stopped two hours ago for a broken taillight, but Stiles is obviously not feeling particularly focused because he types in about three words for every mini-spiel about… comic book movies?  Video game movies?  Movies turned into video games?  Something.  Derek isn’t expected to respond or even necessarily listen, but he kind of likes to tune out the individual words and just hear the rising and falling pitch of Stiles’ voice, watch him lick his lips or nibble on a fingernail.

Fuck, Derek is so far gone on Stiles.  Laura would laugh her head off.

It would be worth it, to hear Laura laugh again.

Then the radio cuts in, and Stiles knows to shut his yap mid-sentence as Derek relays their location to the dispatcher, who gives them an address.  It’s a domestic, and Stiles goes completely and utterly still at the words “shots fired.”

Derek turns on the lightbar and speeds to the address, only a few blocks away.  He listens for more shots over the wail of the siren but doesn’t hear anything.  Stiles still hasn’t said a word, and his fingers are gripping the console so hard his knuckles are white.  When they pull up to the house, there’s no time to talk it over, but Stiles gets out of the car and pulls his Kevlar vest from the back at the same time Derek does.

Derek does take the time to squeeze Stiles’ shoulder, a question on his face, and Stiles just says, “You’re not going in there alone.”  His heart is beating triple-time, but he flicks open the thumb break on his holster with a steady hand and walks purposefully toward the house, Derek right on his heels.

The door is locked, but a woman is whimpering and Derek rips the entire lock out of the old wood.  It’ll be hard to explain, but not as hard as if he’d just taken the whole thing off the hinges.  He goes in first, but Stiles is right behind him, and to his surprise, there’s a woman – bruised, bleeding, and keeping most of her weight on her left leg – holding a gun on a man on the floor across the room.  When the man sees them, he tries to get up, but she screams, tells him not to move or else.  Her hand is shaking badly, but she’s got her finger on the trigger.  Derek can smell burnt gunpowder in the air, but not nearly enough blood for a bullet wound.

It’s Stiles who moves first, one hand hovering over his gun and the other outstretched as he walks slowly towards the woman.  “Miss?” he says softly.

“I got it away from him,” she says, voice and body both unsteady.  Derek is ready to jump in if he needs to, if she turns the gun on Stiles, but she keeps it and her eyes trained on the man.  “He was going to kill me.  I was trying to leave and he said he was going to kill me, he did, he beat the hell out of me first and when I tried to run for the door he went and got the gun and—”

She’s growing visibly more agitated and her speech is barely intelligible, but Stiles keeps moving forward.  “Miss, you’re safe now.  He can’t hurt you right now, not while we’re here.  But you need to give me the gun.”

The man on the floor yells “Crazy bitch tried to kill me!” and Derek would love nothing more than to pounce on him, claws and fangs out, make him shit himself at the very least.

“NO!” the woman shrieks.  “I didn’t shoot at him!  I didn’t!  I was trying to pull it away from him!”

“I believe you,” Stiles says, his tone achingly sincere.  “I do.  What’s your name?”

“G-Grace,” she says, her voice cracking over a sob.  “Just take him out of here.  Get him away from me.”

“We can get him out of here as soon as you give me the gun.”

She doesn’t seem to hear him, just cries harder, and Stiles is almost close enough to touch her.  “Grace?  My name’s Stiles.  And my partner over there, that’s Derek.  I want you to look at him for a second, okay?  Just a second.  We’ll make sure this guy stays right where he is.  But I want you to take a look at Derek.”

Derek has no idea where Stiles is going with this, but the woman quickly cuts her eyes over to Derek before looking back at the man on the floor.

“Did you see how big Derek is?” Stiles asks.  “He’s even stronger than he looks, and he’s fast.  If that man so much as moves a muscle, Derek will have him pinned to the floor in a second.  Less than a second.  You did your part already.  You did what you needed to do.  Now let us do our job, okay?  I promise you, Grace, no one’s going to hurt you any more tonight.”

There’s a long, tense moment where nobody moves or speaks, and Derek has seen this kind of thing go both ways.  He can’t tell with this one; Grace smells so strongly of pain and fear, the man of rage, and part of Derek – the part that knows how these things go in court, if they even get that far – almost wants her to shoot him.

But she doesn’t.  She finally presses the gun into Stiles’ outstretched hand and practically collapses on him.  Derek hears him pop the clip out and eject the round from the chamber while Derek rushes over to the man on the floor.  He has no leverage at all, but he takes a swing at Derek and that’s resisting arrest right there, so he’ll be charged with that at least.

He’s got the guy cuffed and on his feet and is able to spare a glance at Stiles, who’s just holding the sobbing woman and murmuring softly to her.  Even Derek can’t hear what he’s saying over the man’s screaming, calling her a bitch and a liar, and Derek has to read him his rights even though he’s not listening to a word.  They’ll probably advise him again before questioning, but Derek at least has to tell him he has the right to shut the hell up.

By then, the ambulance has pulled up along with their backup, and he hands the guy off to Officer Greenberg for processing.  Greenberg glares at him, but Derek snaps something about being more concerned with taking care of the victim and Greenberg looks chastened.

Back inside, Grace is still half-clinging to Stiles while the paramedic checks her over.  She refuses to leave the house until the man is completely gone, and Derek waits at the door to tell her when Greenberg drives off.  Then Stiles walks her out the door, and when Derek finally has a chance to get a good look at the room, he can see two bullet holes in the floor not far from where Grace had been standing.  There’s also a packed suitcase that looks like it made a dent where it was flung against a wall.  Jesus.

When Derek goes back outside, Grace is sitting on the back of the ambulance, trying to talk to someone on her cell phone and squeezing Stiles’ arm whenever a sob leaks out.  Stiles sees Derek and motions for him to come over.  He does, and gently rubs his hand down Stiles’ other arm, mouthing You did good.

Stiles just nods.  He looks so overwhelmed, and it takes everything Derek’s got not to simply pull Stiles into a tight hug and tell him just how perfect he is, how brave and kind and strong.  But even if there weren’t other officers around, Grace is their priority right now.

“Ma’am, we can follow you to the hospital if you’d like,” Derek says after she hangs up the phone.

She looks at Stiles like she’s seriously considering it, but says, “No.  No, he’s gone and my sister will meet me there.  Thank you so much.  Both of you, thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Stiles says, pulling a card from his pocket and handing it to her.  “Call us if you have any questions or need anything.”

She nods and the paramedics finally insist on helping her up and into the ambulance.  Her nose doesn’t look broken, but she’ll probably need some stitches and when she moves, her leg seems to cause her a lot of pain.  There will be officers at the hospital to document everything.

Stiles watches the ambulance drive off and Derek quickly asks around, makes sure the other officers can take care of everything at the scene.  Ordinarily, Stiles and Derek would have more work to do, but everyone knows about Stiles’ father, and if they know Stiles at all, they can see how uncharacteristically still and silent he is.

When they get back in their squad car, Stiles grabs for the laptop, pulling up information on the man they just arrested.  “Douglas Perdue,” he reads.  “Priors for assault, aggravated stalking, DV— oh, thank god.”

Derek knows what he means – Perdue’s record shows a pattern that will help Grace if she decides to press charges.  Derek wishes there weren’t that if, but he knows how these things go.  He knows why Stiles didn’t promise Grace that she’d be safe for good or that Perdue would never hurt her again.  All Stiles and Derek can do is write their report and testify if this goes to trial, but it doesn’t feel like nearly enough.

Stiles is still ranting about what a fucking scumbag this guy is until suddenly his voice breaks.  Derek yanks the wheel and pulls the car over, and as soon as Stiles is able to look at him, he bursts into tears.

Derek pulls Stiles into his arms the best he can with the console in the way, not willing to take the time to get out of the car and go around to him.  Stiles is shuddering loud, wet sobs into Derek’s shoulder, but he seems to be breathing well enough and there’s none of the sour tinge in the air that precedes a panic attack.  So Derek just rubs his back, lets him get it out of his system before Derek starts whispering all the things he’d wanted to say earlier.

He hopes one day that he’ll be able to say Your father would be proud.  He doesn’t know if Stiles is ready to hear it.  More than that, he doesn’t know if Stiles is ready to hear it from him.

Derek expects Stiles to want to stay with his mom that night – he certainly wouldn’t blame him – but Stiles doesn’t let go of Derek’s hand all the way back to the station, nor when they’ve traded the cruiser for the Camaro.

Back at Derek’s apartment, Stiles presses him up against the bedroom wall, kissing him deep and desperate, and Derek has to slow them down.  “Is this what you want?” he asks, wiping away the tears that have started to silently fall down Stiles’ cheeks again.

Stiles nods firmly, his eyes clear even though the sheen of wetness.  “I need you.”

“You’ve got me,” Derek whispers.  “However you want me.”

Again, Stiles bucks all of Derek’s expectations by pushing him down on his back, slicking his own fingers and opening Derek up with fierce precision.  Derek’s experience hasn’t been as broad as most people assume, and he’s certainly never been with anyone like Stiles, who – among many other things – is more vulnerable when he’s topping, every need and fear and desire perfectly evident on his face.  Derek lets Stiles take what he needs, never stops touching Stiles’ face or neck or chest, rocks with the rhythm Stiles sets.

Afterwards, he holds Stiles close, pressing his nose into Stiles’ hair and breathing in his scent, hoping Stiles feels the same kind of peace Derek does when they’re together like this.

&&&

The peace doesn’t last.  Of course it doesn’t.

Stiles has been acting strangely all day, mostly due to the fact that he hasn’t been acting strangely.  No non sequitur outbursts or rambling tangents.  He’s barely spoken at all, in fact, and his whole body is rigid with tension.

“All right, spill it,” Derek says when they’ve stopped for dinner.  There’s still a few hours left on their shift, and Derek’s not sure he can deal with Stiles like this for that long.  He stinks of worry.

“Spill what?”

Derek gives him The Eyebrow and Stiles sighs.  He has to know he’s doing a shitty job of acting casual.  “Okay, there’s something I need to tell you.  But I can’t tell you now.  It’s not something I can just drop on you while we’re working.”

Derek feels his face drain of color.  No, Stiles wouldn’t.  Things have been going so well, and yes, the other night was bad, but Derek thinks he did a pretty decent job of taking care of Stiles without treating him like he’s fragile.  Okay, so maybe there are lingering effects that Derek isn’t aware of and Stiles is still dealing with the emotional repercussions, but Derek just kind of assumed that they’d deal with them together—

Eventually he realizes that Stiles is waving his hands right in front of Derek’s face.  “Derek.  Derek.  Don’t freak out.  Why are you freaking out?  I haven’t even said anything yet.”

“Don’t go,” Derek says weakly.  “Whatever I did – or didn’t do – just tell me, and we’ll work through it.  Please don’t just—”

“Oh, shit,” Stiles groans, glancing around quickly before grabbing Derek’s hand.  “No, it’s nothing like that.  It’s nothing about us.  I’m not going anywhere.”

Derek almost whimpers with relief, sinking down in the booth and gripping Stiles’ hand harder.  “Why was that your first thought?” Stiles asks, looking confused.  “You know what, never mind.  Just… don’t go there in your head, okay?  It’s nothing like that, and we really should wait until after work to deal with it.  God, Derek.”  He rubs his cheek against the back of Derek’s hand.

It’s still hard to focus for the rest of the night.  Luckily, it’s all routine traffic stops and a gas station robbery where no one got hurt and the idiot’s face is clear on the surveillance tape.  But the tension keeps growing between Derek and Stiles until they’re back in Derek’s apartment and he has to stop himself from physically shaking the words out of Stiles.

“Do you want some tea?” Stiles asks.  Derek growls.  “Okay, no tea.  At least sit down.”

Derek forces himself to sit on the couch and keep his hands to himself.  Mercifully, as soon as Stiles joins him, he blurts out, “She’s back.  Or at least she’s coming back.”

Kate?”  Stiles nods.  “How long has she been here?  How do you know? Have you seen her?”

“Derek, sit down!” Stiles yelps, and Derek didn’t even realize he’d gotten to his feet, claws already starting to slide out.  “No, I haven’t seen her.  I wouldn’t have waited to tell you if I had.  I don’t even know if she’s here yet.”

“Then—”

“I’m Allison’s friend on Facebook.   This morning, she posted something about getting to see her favorite aunt.  It’s the middle of the semester, midterm time, so I don’t think Allison’s going out of town, and I don’t think she has any other aunts.”

“Did she say when?  Or what she’s doing here?  Or how long she’s planning on staying?”

“It’s Facebook, not a travel itinerary,” Stiles says with an eye roll, but he drops the snark when he sees the expression on Derek’s face.  “No, it was just a very vague statement.  That’s why I didn’t want to tell you until after work, because I didn’t want you to spend all day wigging out when we have no specific information.”

Derek opens his mouth to deny his very capacity to “wig out,” but Stiles is right; Derek would’ve been obsessing about nothing else all day, worse than just being a bit distracted.  Of course, there’s always tomorrow.  And the day after that.  And the day after…  “Okay, we need a plan.”

Stiles bites his lower lip, looking like he really doesn’t want to say what he says next.  “Don’t take this the wrong way, but… are you sure?  I don’t want to immediately take this to DEFCON 1 if we don’t have to.  She really might just be visiting Allison and Mr. Argent.  Does she even know you’re in town?”

“She has to.  I can’t think of any reason why her brother would’ve moved here other than to keep an eye on me.”

“That sounds pretty paranoid.”

Derek feels a sudden surge of annoyance and has to stand up and start pacing the room.  If Stiles really understood any of this, how serious it is… “You told me yourself – Chris came here a few months after I did.”

“If he’s a hunter, why hasn’t he come after you?”

“As far as I know, he follows the Code.  She must have convinced him that I’m some kind of risk, but not enough to take any action.”

Stiles nods, his face and heartbeat infuriatingly calm.  It’s getting Derek more worked up.  “Okay, but why now?  And why you?”

“Why me?” Derek practically shouts.  “Are you seriously asking me that question?  You know what she did.”

“Yeah, I do,” Stiles says, his voice placating, and Derek wants to put his fist through the wall.  “So why would she risk committing murder again in the same small town, especially when she went through such pains to cover her tracks before?  And why not come after you in New York?”

“I was too visible there.  The attention actually kept me safe, for a while.”  How to make him understand without revealing too much?  “Stiles, trust me, this woman is dangerous.  She’s smart and she’s manipulative, and if she gets inside your head, you’re already fucked.”

Stiles narrows his eyes a bit and Derek’s insides turn cold.  “How do you know all this about her?  I thought she was just some rogue hunter, but you didn’t just know about her.  You knew her, didn’t you?”

Derek means to say something like That’s not the point or I’ll explain later, but what comes out of his mouth is “It’s none of your business.”

“None of my…”  Stiles gapes.  “Derek, two minutes ago you were telling me we needed a plan, like you were in immediate danger.  And if that’s what you think, I believe you.  You don’t have to tell me everything, but if you don’t tell me anything about what happened between you two, I’m going to have a hard time helping—”

“I didn’t ask for your help,” Derek snaps, because there’s no way to tell Stiles anything more about Kate without telling him everything.

“Um, who was the ‘we’ in ‘we need a plan’?  You got a mouse in your pocket?”

“Okay then, I don’t need your help,” Derek says, and he’s not even sure where this is coming from, just that Stiles’ glib tone is like claws on a chalkboard.  “I shouldn’t get you involved anyway.”

“I’m already involved, Derek.”

“Yeah, you went and dug up the case file without so much as asking me.”

Stiles groans.  “I thought you didn’t have a problem with that, and it’s not even what I’m talking about.  Everyone in town knows that we do more than just work together.”

“Yeah, well, maybe…”

Stiles is up off the couch and in Derek’s face in a second.  “Maybe what?”

“Nothing.”

“No.  A few hours ago you were begging me not to leave you, and now it sounds like you’re saying…”  His eyes dart away for a split second.  “So finish that fucking sentence, Derek, or I’m walking out of here.  Maybe what?”

Derek knows what he almost said, even though he didn’t – doesn’t – mean it.  There’s no way he’s actually going to say it now, but there’s also no way to backtrack, not with the headspace Derek’s in, so he just glares at Stiles, daring him to make good on his threat.

But Stiles doesn’t back down either, anger pouring off of him and his heart beating fast and hard.  He stares Derek down, not even blinking, for several more seconds, until it’s obvious that Derek isn’t going to say anything.

“Fuck this,” he mutters, spinning away and going to pull on the sneakers he left by the door.

“Where are you going?”

Stiles laughs drily.  “That’s none of your business.”

He grabs his jacket and leaves, slamming the door behind him.

&&&

By the time a week has passed, they’ve managed to sort things out.  Or as much as they can for now.  Of course, that’s when Derek finds the note pinned to his door.  Well, bolted to his door.  By a crossbow quarrel.  Of course.

Your boy toy really is adorable, but the mouth on him.  Well, you always did like a filthy mouth.  You know where to find me.  Come alone and unarmed.

As if Derek would do anything else.  He sticks the siren on the top of the Camaro and drives like hell.

He has no real way of knowing if Kate will be alone, but even when she had lackeys, she preferred to do most of the dirty work herself.  Dirty work.  Jesus, if she’s touched Stiles in any way…

Derek was going to tell him everything, all the things he’ll spend the rest of his life atoning for.  But he’d wanted to wait until after she was caught, or at least definitively out of town and far away.  If Stiles chose to reject Derek for what he’d done, then he would find a way to deal with it, but he couldn’t risk it while she was still a threat.  Derek’s pretty sure Stiles has a good idea of what Kate is like now, anyway.  They’d had the day off and he’d last seen Stiles nine… no, ten hours ago.  He doesn’t know when she took him, but at least he knows where.

When he gets within a mile of the old house, he shuts off the siren – there’s no traffic back here, anyway.  No need to be stealthy because she knows he’s coming, but he still keeps his senses on full alert in case she’s brought backup.

But at the house, around the black SUV parked outside, there are just two heartbeats inside and the only foreign scent in the cool night air is Kate’s.  He’d managed to forget that smell until now, but she still wears the same perfume and the sense memory assaults him like a physical blow.  Combined with the smell of Stiles – and blood – it’s enough to make Derek dry heave.  Instead, he focuses on Stiles’ heartbeat, makes sure his phone is in his pocket and on, just in case.

As soon as he walks through the empty door frame, he hears “Hands up.  And I don’t want to see anything but fingernails, got it?”

There’s no artificial light, but enough of the roof is gone that there’s plenty of moonlight to see Kate with a gun pointed at him, and behind her, Stiles, gagged and on his knees.  It looks like he’s been hogtied, his wrists behind his back and bound to his ankles.  There’s no rope around his throat, but there’s blood that’s trickled down the side of his face from a head wound.  Derek can’t tell how bad it is from where he’s standing, but he doesn’t smell a lot of blood and Stiles is conscious and alert – all good signs.

Derek keeps his hands up and his eyes on Stiles.  “You all right?”

Stiles nods slowly.  He’s sweating and his pulse is through the roof, but he’s not panicking, thank god.  If he had an attack with that gag in his mouth…

Kate uses her free hand to grab Stiles by the hair and yank his head back.  “Don’t worry.  I knocked him out before he could put up much of a fight, so he’s mostly undamaged.  I gotta say, Derek, you really know how to pick ‘em.  He’s stronger than he looks.  Oh, and those sweet, sweet eyes.  Hate to have to put a bullet between them.”

She lets go of Stiles’ hair and strokes a hand down his throat.  Even though Derek knows she’s doing it specifically to piss him off, he can’t help but react to it, claws extending and rage clouding his vision.

“Eh eh eh,” Kate chides, holding the gun steadily with both hands now.  “None of that.  Not a lot of light in here, but you wouldn’t want Bright Eyes seeing things he shouldn’t.”  So she doesn’t know that Stiles knows.  That’s good.

Derek forces himself to look at Kate, really look at her face, for the first time in nearly ten years.  It would be satisfying if she looked a little older, tired from a life on the run, but to Derek she looks the same as the day she first smiled at him in the parking lot of the grocery store.  Even the smile’s the same, though Derek knows what that predatory glint in her eyes means now.

He has to look away or else he really is going to shift, and that’ll probably earn him a wolfsbane bullet before he can take a single step.  He’s only been back to the burnt-out shell of his old house a handful of times since he returned to Beacon Hills, mostly when there were reports of teenagers using it as a place to get stoned.  He can see the phrase “So it goes” tagged on the wall to Kate’s left and it makes him think of the day he caught Stiles behind the library with a can of spray paint.

“What do you want, Kate?”

She laughs, loud and ugly.  “What the hell do you think I want, Derek?  I want to finish what I started.  Leaving survivors is… sloppy.  Though I’ll admit, letting you live had its appeal, even though I didn’t get to watch you wallow in the guilt.”

“What guilt?” he says, swallowing down bile and trying to keep himself under control, to keep her talking.  “Why should I feel guilty for what you did?”

“I may have set the fire, but you might as well have handed me the matches.  Well, so to speak.  Shame you weren’t here to watch it burn.  Do you know how hot a chemical fire can get, Derek?  You could hear the screams for miles.”

The only thing allowing him to hold on to a shred of control is the fact that she’s so completely over the top, almost hysterical with arrogance.  Arrogant people make mistakes.  “So if it wasn’t for me, you would have left them alone?”

She pretends to think it over.  “Hmm, probably not.  You were just a fun little side project, a diversion.  Very diverting, by the way.  And I see you’ve found yourself a diversion of your own.  So pretty, this one.  Looks nice and flexible, too.”

Kate goes to caress the top of Stiles’ head, but she shakes her off, trying to shout something through the gag that Derek would love to hear.  “And feisty,” Kate laughs.  “Just like you were.”

“So why all this?” Derek asks.  “Why haven’t you just shot me already?”  It’s probably not the smartest thing to say, but if she keeps talking about Stiles, there’s no way Derek’s going to be clear-headed enough to get them through this.

She pouts, and it makes him sick that he used to find that sexy.  “You of all people – and I use the word ‘people’ very loosely – should know… I like to play with my food.”

Stiles starts to mouth off again, and though it’s completely muffled even to Derek’s ears, Kate whips the gun across Stiles’ face, nearly knocking him over.  But Derek doesn’t even make it two steps forward before the gun’s pointed back at him.  “Freeze,” Kate shouts.  And then out of the side of her mouth, to Stiles: “I’m not going to eat you, you stupid little shit.  That’s not what human beings do.”  And then back to Derek.  “I do need some information, though.  Tell me where Laura is.”

Derek’s breath catches in his throat.  New York is a big place, and Laura’s still subletting from a member of the local pack like they always did, so their names aren’t on anything.  Still, if Derek’s out of the picture, Kate will probably find her eventually.  “What possible incentive do I have to tell you anything?”

She nods over at Stiles.  “I’ll let him live.”

“And why the fuck should I trust anything you say?”

“I’ll drug him so he won’t remember any of this, and I’ll be three states away before he even wakes up.”

She must be out of practice, because there’s the tiniest skip in her heartbeat, a shift in the tone of her voice.  “You’re lying.”

Another cackling laugh.  “And how would you know that, Derek?  Care to tell your little twink here?  You tell me where Laura is or I’ll shoot him right now.”

It’s time. “Stiles,” Derek says calmly, “don’t listen.”

Stiles meets his gaze, then ducks his head and closes his eyes.  Derek does the same.

There’s a quick series of loud pops and light flares behind Derek’s closed eyelids.  He shifts, and as soon as he hears the eighth pop, he opens his eyes to see Kate’s attention focused dazedly to her left, where a series of small black powder charges have just gone off.  She’s still got the gun pointed at him, though her arm has lowered, so Derek dodges to his left before leaping at Kate from an angle.

She snaps to face forward again and, still blind from the sudden light, fires at where Derek used to be.  He takes her down just as she gets off the second shot and rips the gun from her hands, flinging it across the room

He gets her on her stomach with her wrists wrenched behind her back and holds her down.  She’s not fighting it – she’s conserving her strength, and Derek can’t cuff her like this because she’s sure to have other weapons concealed somewhere on her and she’ll be up on her feet anyway the moment Derek goes to free Stiles.

Stiles makes a noise through the gag and nods at the support beam in the middle of the room, and it’s almost painful for Derek to leave him like that, even for the few seconds it takes to manhandle Kate so she’s sitting at the base of the column and pull her arms back around either side of it to cuff her wrists together.  She hasn’t got sleeves to hide anything and Derek checks her hands to make sure she’s not holding something that could pick the lock, if that were even possible from the angle of her arms.

“Katherine Argent, you are under arrest for kidnapping and assault, as well as under suspicion of arson and murder.”

She laughs, but it sounds desperate this time.  “You have no evidence of murder.”

“I think,” Derek says, standing up and pulling his phone out of his pocket, “that I might have an unsolicited confession on tape.”  He bends low enough to show her that the phone’s making an audio recording and has been for the past fifteen minutes.

He shuts it off now, stowing it safely in his pocket again and going straight for Stiles as Kate shrieks and wrenches against the handcuffs.  Derek carefully slices through the gag first, and Stiles spits out the wet rag that had been stuffed in his mouth.   “Jesus, that thing tastes like an old sweat sock.  Now get these ropes off of me.”

Derek’s cutting him free before he even finishes speaking.  “You think you can stand?”

Stiles shakes his head.  “Give me a minute.  Just… help me stretch my legs out.”

Derek picks Stiles up and moves him just enough so that he’s sitting propped up by the wall, groaning as he stretches his arms and legs and finally drops the rewired car door remote clutched in his hand.  “Do I want to know where you hid that?”

“In my shoe, you perv.  Had plenty of time to get to it.  God, you were right, she was actually monologuing there for, like—ooh shit, pins and needles.”

Derek massages his wrists and arms, leeching a little of the pain away, and takes a moment to just breathe.  “You hurt anywhere else?”

“Just my head, and that stopped bleeding a while ago.”  Then he turns to Kate.  “Oh yeah, and my face.”

Now Kate has her damsel-in-distress expression on, and Derek wonders how he was ever fooled by that.  “Stiles,” she says.  “Stiles, you can’t let him do this to me.  There are things about him, about his whole family, that you don’t know.”

“Oh yeah?” Stiles says, recovered enough to start to crawl toward her.  “What things?”

“He’s a monster, Stiles.  A freak.  He’s dangerous to you and everyone else.  You don’t know what he really is.”

Stiles’ face creases with fear.  “What… what is he?”

“This is going to sound crazy, but at the next full moon you’ll see… he’s a werewolf.”

After a brief, heavy pause, Stiles laughs.  “Oh, thank god.  I thought you were going to say he was a secret groupie for The Cure or something.  But no, yeah, werewolf.  Pretty bitchin’, huh?”

Then Derek sees something he never thought he’d lay eyes on: Kate taken completely by surprise and unable to hide it.  “But—But he’s an abomination!”

Stiles frowns.  “Um, no.  He does eat ketchup on his eggs, though.  That’s kind of an abomination.”  He shakes his head and makes his way carefully to his feet.  “Ketchup, ugh.” 

The look on Kate’s face is better than any violent, bloody revenge would have been.

&&&

The shitty thing about your boyfriend being your partner is being stuck together for hours in the close space of a car while you’re pissed at each other.  They’d had a double shift starting the morning after Stiles stormed out of Derek’s apartment, so it wasn’t like Derek could even get a good, self-righteous brood on.  He tried his best, though, and so did Stiles, slumped in the passenger seat and only speaking when absolutely necessary.

It was something Derek thought he’d enjoy – a break from the babbling – but on the clock, he associated Stiles’ silence with pain or grief.  He couldn’t even concentrate on his own anger because his instincts kept screaming that something was wrong, making him glance over to his right every few seconds until Stiles snapped “What?”

“Nothing,” Derek mumbled, and a fresh surge of anger helped him keep his eyes straight ahead.

Just before rush hour, they got a call out to the town’s only highway.  Some asshole in an SUV had been weaving in and out of traffic, coming so close to sideswiping a family in a minivan that the father had swerved, then overcorrected and swung into the next lane.  Four other cars were badly damaged, but the minivan was totaled.

They were the first on the scene, and Derek was out of the car as soon as it was in park.  He knew Stiles would start helping the others, but a little girl was screaming and Derek could hear two heartbeats still in the van, which had eventually come to a stop pinned against the guardrail by another car.

The little girl and her father had made it out of the wreckage, but the mother and an older girl were still trapped inside.  Not sparing a glance to see if anyone was looking, Derek shoved the other car a few feet back, just enough to get it out of the way of the rear door, which he then ripped off easily.  The mother was conscious, but her leg had been crushed by the door, so Derek quickly sliced off her seat belt and lifted her gently out of the car, setting her safely with her husband and younger daughter.

The other girl was unconscious; her head had hit the window and cracked the glass.  She was alive, but Derek couldn’t tell the extent of her injuries.  He just made quick work of her seat belt as well, then shoved at the passenger seat in front of her until it cracked forward, which would give the EMTs more room to work.

When he came back out of the van, Stiles was with the family, crouched down by the little girl and trying to help soothe her.  He looked up at Derek as he approached, nearly as anxious for good news as the others.  “Her heartbeat is strong and she’s breathing fine,” Derek said, “but I want to wait and let the paramedics move her, just in case.”

The father nodded, obviously holding back tears, and the mother thanked him profusely.  In all the years he’d been doing this, he’d never quite known how to react to that.  He never felt like he’d done anything extraordinary, only what someone in his position with his abilities should do.  Thankfully, the ambulance pulled up just then and took over.

There were a few other injuries among the other crash victims, but they were all well enough to be up and walking around, so Derek and Stiles took statements and tried to calm the more hysterical ones.  Derek only had to growl at one dickhead who was bitching about his insurance.  Derek did manage to overhear one of the paramedics telling the family that their older daughter was awake and able to move her fingers and toes, but that she’d need to be checked for internal injuries at the hospital.

After the people were dealt with, Derek, Stiles, and the other officers on the scene were mostly relegated to traffic duty.  They’d had to close off two lanes, so cars crept by though the single remaining lane and it was dark by the time all the wreckage had been cleared away.

When it was all over, Stiles and Derek drove home – well, to Derek’s apartment – in silence.  Derek took it as a tentatively hopeful sign that Stiles might stay the night, but as soon as they walked in the door, Stiles flung his arms around Derek and buried his face against his neck, whole body shaking.  Derek hugged him even tighter.

They stood like that for a long time until Stiles finally pulled back.  His eyes were dry but rimmed in red and he looked exhausted.  “Derek, I’m so sorry about last night.”

Something in Derek melted at the words.  “Me too.  I said some things—”

“No.  Well, yeah, you did, but I was pushing too hard in the wrong spots.  You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to.”

Derek pulled him close again and rested his forehead against Stiles’.  “I’ll tell you everything someday.  I will.”

“Not until you’re ready,” Stiles said.  “Just tell me whatever you think is useful for right now.  And tell me how to help you.  I’ll do anything you need me to.”  He lifted his head to look Derek in the eye.  “You know that, right?  Anything.”

“I know.”  It came out in a cracked whisper as he leaned in to capture Stiles’ mouth in a gentle kiss that only stayed gentle for a few moments.  Much sooner than he’d expected, it turned fierce and hungry, Stiles pawing at Derek’s shirt and Derek’s hands clutching Stiles’ hips hard enough to bruise.

When they came up for air, Derek gasped, “So, a plan?”

“Yeah,” Stiles said, jumping up to wrap his legs around Derek’s waist and trusting Derek to take his weight.  “A plan.  Tomorrow.  First thing tomorrow.”

&&&

Once backup has arrived and carted Kate away kicking and screaming, Derek insists on driving Stiles to the hospital to check for a concussion.  Stiles bitches all the way there, but every time Derek touches him, there’s no shortage of pain and Derek isn’t taking any chances.

It turns out there’s no concussion, but Stiles leaves with seven stitches in his scalp and an ice pack for what’s probably going to turn into one hell of a shiner from the pistol whipping.  “At least you were right about where she’d take me.  Ugh, how did I let you talk me into being the bait?” Stiles groans as they get back in the car.

“They did check you for traumatic brain injury, right?  Because I distinctly remember that being your idea.”  Derek had hated it so much that he had nearly stormed out of the apartment that time, but they both knew that if Kate couldn’t get Derek isolated, she’d go after Stiles.

“Yeah, well, let’s not listen to my ideas anymore.  My ideas are stupid.”

Derek makes a show of patting at his pockets.  “Damn.  If only I hadn’t turned in my phone as evidence, I could’ve recorded that.  Made it my new ringtone.”  The pre-rigged explosions as a distraction had actually been a damned good idea, but Derek doesn’t think Stiles needs encouragement to start playing with black powder again.

“Ooh, that reminds me,” Stiles says, pulling his phone out of his pocket.  They found it turned off, but thankfully not smashed, in Kate’s car.  Stiles turns it on.  “Shit.  Eighteen missed calls.  All from Mom.  And a text from Scott… asking to borrow my Xbox.  All is right with the world.”

“Call your mom.  She’s probably heard from everyone in the department by now except you.”

It takes until they get to Derek’s apartment, climb the stairs, and go inside before Stiles has reassured Mrs. Stilinski enough to say “I’ll come see you first thing tomorrow, Mom, I promise.  It might not be actual morning, because it’s like 3 a.m. now and I want to sleep for about 12 hours, but I swear, as soon as I wake up.”  There’s a pause.  “Yes, Derek will drive me even though I don’t have a concussion, according to several fully licensed medical doctors.  And also Scott’s mom.”  Another pause.  “I will.  I love you, too.  See you tomorrow.”

After he hangs up, Stiles groans, chucks his phone in the general direction of the couch, and slumps into Derek’s arms.  “Painkillers kicking in yet?” Derek asks, holding Stiles as tightly as he dares.

Stiles, of course, just pulls him in tighter.  “If they are, they need a hell of a lot more kick.”

Derek slides a hand up to cup the back of Stiles’ head, drawing some of the pain away, and it seems to take Stiles’ spine with it.  “Fuuuuuuuuck,” he sighs against Derek’s neck.  “You probably shouldn’t do that too much.  I’ll get addicted, start chasing after you every time I get a paper cut.”

“Mmm hmm, like you’re not constantly chasing after me now,” Derek says, trying to ignore his very visceral reaction at having Stiles so relaxed and pliable and pressed against him from head to toe.

“That’s only ‘cause the view’s so nice,” Stiles purrs, slotting a thigh between Derek’s and oh, that’s just playing dirty.

“But you’re hurt,” Derek gasps weakly.

“I’m also horny,” Stiles says, nibbling a path up Derek’s throat.  “And horny trumps hurt, especially when life-affirming victory sex is on the table.”

There’s probably at least one flaw in that logic, but Derek is rapidly losing his ability to care.  “Okay, but we go slow.”  He presses his nose into Stiles’ mussed hair and inhales and… wait.  “But first, you really need to shower.  You reek of hospital.”  And her.

Stiles pulls away gently, and Derek has a feeling he heard the words that Derek didn’t say.  He walks backward toward the master bathroom, tugging Derek by the hand.  “As long as you’re in there to lather me up.”

It’s an agonizingly teasing pleasure to work shampoo through Stiles’ hair, carefully avoiding his stitches.  That area, at least, is still numb from the local anesthetic, so Stiles is very vocal about how much he likes Derek’s fingers rubbing his scalp.  By the time he helps Stiles tip his head back to rinse, Derek is fully hard, abs twitching every time the tip of his cock brushes Stiles’ belly.

But he made a promise to go slow, and besides, it’s not every day (meaning: never) that Stiles is this content just to be still and let himself be touched.  The smell of Stiles’ body wash straight from the bottle is overpowering, but it’s better when it’s mixing with the scent of Stiles’ clean skin.  Derek washes down Stiles’ body, dropping to his knees to carefully work the soapy cloth over Stiles’ legs and feet.  His body shows surprisingly few injuries – chafing from the ropes and a few scattered bruises, but it could have been worse.  It could have been so much worse.

Derek feels a hand in his hair and realizes he’s stopped washing Stiles in favor of gripping his thighs and mindlessly rubbing his cheek against Stiles’ hip.  “You okay down there, big guy?” Stiles asks with a crooked grin.

Derek sighs, pressing a kiss to the crest of Stiles’ hipbone.  “Yeah.  Yeah, just…”  I could have lost you.

Stiles strokes a thumb over Derek’s cheekbone and just gazes at him for a long time before saying, “Okay, new rule: no being melancholy when we’re both naked and wet.”

That makes Derek smile.  “I suppose that’s fair.”

“I’ll let you make it up to me.  Since you’re already down there and all…”

Derek nips at Stiles’ lower belly, making him yelp.  “Subtle as always.”

“Hey, I find the direct approach to be v—hoookay, that’s the stuff.”

Derek would grin, but his mouth is currently full.  He sucks Stiles with long, slow pulls, feeling him swell and harden in his mouth.  Stiles moans and pitches forward, catching himself with his hands on Derek’s shoulders, and Derek holds tightly to his hips to make sure he’s completely stable.  They probably shouldn’t be doing this here – Stiles could get dizzy from his injuries and the heat of the water, not to mention the lack of blood flow to his brain.  Derek doesn’t think he’s overestimating his own skills, not when Stiles’ breathing starts to turn ragged as Derek swirls his tongue around him.

Derek is just getting into a good rhythm when the water starts to lose its warmth and Stiles groans in frustration.  But when he fumbles behind his back to either turn the water off or turn up the heat, Derek gets an idea.  “Turn around,” he says, holding up the washcloth.  “I missed a spot.”

Stiles knows what’s coming and spins around so fast he nearly falls over but for Derek’s hands still clutching at his hips.  He spreads his legs as wide as he can in the tub and Derek gently runs the cloth between Stiles’ cheeks, being far more thorough than he probably needs to be.  When he’s done, he sets the washcloth aside and holds Stiles open as Stiles tilts forward, letting the last of the warm water sluice down his back and rinse the soap away.

All Stiles gets for the moment, though, is a kiss to his tailbone before Derek stands up.  They really can’t do this in the shower – they tried once, and even with Stiles at 100% capacity, it still ended with both of them crashing down on the tile.  Stiles apparently remembers that well enough not to complain.

He does, however, dry off in record time and zip back into the bedroom while Derek’s still rubbing a towel through his hair.  Derek takes his time, thoroughly enjoying the sounds of Stiles trying to quietly grab things out of drawers and get comfortable on the bed, all while completely failing at the “quiet” part.  Derek is so in love with Stiles – it’s not really news to him, but the mere sound of Stiles shuffling around on the bed in eager anticipation makes Derek’s heart ache.  It’s a little unsettling, but in a good way.

So he ditches the towel – no use bothering to wrap it around his waist when he’s still mostly hard – and heads into the bedroom, where Stiles is lying on his stomach, hips propped up by two pillows so that his ass is held invitingly up in the air.  There’s three kinds of lube sitting out on the bedside table, and Stiles looks so proud of himself that Derek’s not sure if he even realizes he’s gently humping the pillows.

As tempting as it is to go right for Stiles’ ass, Derek takes the time to run his hands up Stiles’ back – tomorrow, he’ll give Stiles a massage that will leave him boneless and drooling, but tonight he leans down over the length of Stiles’ body and turns his head gently for a kiss.  After a few moments, Stiles tries to crane his neck up to deepen it, but Derek pulls away and puts a hand between Stiles’ shoulder blades.  “Just relax,” Derek whispers into the short hair at the back of his neck.  “Let me take care of you.”

Stiles hums in agreement, but rocks up and back, catching Derek’s erection between their bodies and making him gasp.  Encouraged, Stiles wriggles beneath him and Derek has to move back before the friction becomes too much and he resorts to simply rutting against the heat of Stiles’ skin.  He’s got a job to do first.

Calling it a “job” is maybe not the most accurate description – Derek loves doing this for Stiles.  It makes Stiles a little crazy, and considering how few inhibitions he has in the first place, that’s no mean feat.  He doesn’t need much working up to it, but that doesn’t mean Derek isn’t going to take his time, hold Stiles firmly by the hips and alternate kisses and bites over the firm swell of his ass before spreading Stiles open with his thumbs.

Derek gives him one long lick first, from his balls all the way up to the base of his tailbone, to get him nice and wet.  When Derek blows a stream of cool air over Stiles’ exposed cleft, Stiles shivers and buries a whimper into the crook of his arm.  Derek grins; he’s going to make Stiles come like this, and then he’s going to get Stiles hard again so Derek can fuck him.

It’s good to have a plan.

Stiles spreads his legs as far as he can while Derek delicately traces his rim with the tip of his tongue.  It doesn’t give Stiles much leverage to rock down into the pillows, but he still strains against Derek’s hands, trying to get something more than Derek is giving him.  Derek would give Stiles pretty much anything he wanted if he’d just ask, but he can be a stubborn bastard – truthfully, they both can – so Derek continues at his own pace, easing the tip of a thumb into Stiles’ hole to pull him open just a little more, just enough to start to work his tongue inside.

Jesus, the sounds Stiles makes – whines and gasps and bitten-off moans that sound a lot like Derek’s name when Derek covers Stiles’ hole with his mouth and kisses him hot and dirty.  Given more time, Derek could probably make Stiles come without laying a hand on his cock, but they’re both too greedy for that tonight, too skin hungry to spend much more time without being wrapped around each other, so Derek slides his hand between Stiles’ legs and give Stiles something better than the pillow to rut against.

It only takes another minute of corkscrewing his tongue against Stiles’ hole and bobbing with the jerky motions of his thrusts before Stiles is coming.  Derek tightens his hand around Stiles’ cock and Stiles cries out and shudders, bucking so hard that Derek has to pull his mouth away.  When it’s over, Derek yanks the despoiled pillows out from underneath Stiles’ hips and lets him relax back down on the bed while Derek licks his own hand clean.

He hears a soft, needy sound and looks up to see Stiles propped up on his elbows, head craned around to watch Derek’s mouth with wide eyes.  Derek slides his middle finger into his mouth and sucks the last of Stiles’ cum off of it slowly, pulling it out of his mouth with a wet pop.  That’s all it takes, and Stiles is sitting up and tugging Derek up the bed to cover Stiles’ body.  Far from wearing Stiles out, first orgasms usually just wind him up, especially if he doesn’t feel like he’s done for the night.  So Derek has to catch himself on his elbows before he crashes down on Stiles, knocking the air out of him and pinning him to the bed.

But Stiles is still pulling at him like he really wouldn’t mind if Derek did exactly that.  He buries a hand in Derek’s hair and licks into his mouth without any hesitation at all, and Derek decides that if Stiles wants to do all the work, he might as well be on top.  Derek rolls them easily so that Stiles is splayed out on top of him, murmuring fuck, yeah against Derek’s mouth.

For a few long, lazy minutes, he doesn’t seem inclined to do more than cover as much of Derek’s skin with his own as possible and kiss the breath right out of him, and it’s surprisingly sweet.  When he’d seen the looks Stiles kept shooting him at the crime scene, in the hospital, when they could do little more than briefly clutch each other’s hands, Derek had imagined Stiles wanting it frantic and hard, wanting to be fucked into exhaustion, but instead Stiles seems determined to draw it out.  That’s fine with Derek – anything Stiles wants is fine with Derek.

He’s not foolish enough to think that it’s over, even with Kate locked up.  There’ll be a trial and the long process leading up to it, which will force Derek to relive things he wishes he could simply wipe from his memory.  He’ll have to talk to his sister for more than two minutes at a time, which will be… difficult.  And he did promise to tell Stiles everything.  But right now, Kate is not only facing consequences for what she did to him, she also knows that Derek’s found someone who loves him for who he is, accepts and embraces the part of him that Kate wanted to burn away.  There’s no erasing the past, but knowing that that he’s got Stiles in his life now is enough to make Derek more hopeful for the future than he’s been in a long, long time.

Derek’s snapped back to the present by Stiles rubbing his nose against the line of Derek’s jaw.  “What’s going on in there?” Stiles whispers, nibbling lightly on the shell of Derek’s ear.

“I love you,” Derek breathes, and is this the first time he’s said it out loud?  He honestly doesn’t know; he thinks it so often that he’s sure it’s come out before, he just can’t remember a specific instance of saying it. 

But Stiles doesn’t act like it’s some earth-shattering moment.  He just smiles against Derek’s temple like he already knows, murmurs “I love you, too,” like it’s the most natural thing in the world and it doesn’t surprise Derek either.  Nor do the next words out of Stiles’ mouth: “Now lube me up before I start dry humping your thigh.”

Derek groans, reaching for the lube so he doesn’t “accidentally” flip Stiles back to being face down on the mattress, Derek’s teeth sinking into the back of his neck.  “How fucked up is it that I’m starting to get off on your terrible dirty talk?”

“Ha, knew you liked it!” Stiles crows, kneeling up so Derek can slide slick fingers back behind his balls.  He’s already relaxed and sensitive there from being rimmed, but Derek still teases him gently before pressing a fingertip in.  Stiles plants his hands firmly on Derek’s chest and rocks his hips a little, working Derek’s finger farther into him.

That’s all it is, just one finger, but Stiles’ eyes are closed, long lashes resting against flushed cheeks, and it makes Derek dizzy, how Stiles can go from flippant to frighteningly intense in a heartbeat.  It reminds him that the depth of feeling is always there, has always been there, right under the surface, and how hard Stiles works to protect that surface.

Not here, though.  Not now.  When Stiles lets his guard down, everything shows on his face – the burn of Derek sliding in a second finger, the moment the pain gives way to pleasure, the jolt of sensation when Derek rubs over his prostate.  One day, Derek really will do this all night, see how many times he can make Stiles come using nothing but his tongue and fingers, but they both need so much more right now.

By the time Stiles is grinding down on three of his fingers, they’re both panting with need.  Stiles is hard again and only whines a little when Derek pulls his hand free.  As soon as Derek has slicked his own cock, Stiles is sinking down on him, enveloping Derek in greedy, clutching heat that makes him growl.  Stiles grins at the sound, all bite-swollen lips and wild eyes, and starts riding Derek mercilessly.

As painfully aroused as Derek is, it’s not enough.  He tries to let Stiles set the pace until he realizes Stiles is egging him on, pushing him to let go of his control.  Derek can’t – not completely – but he can thrust up hard, get his hands around Stiles’ hips to lift him and shove him back down on Derek’s cock until Stiles is gasping his name.  Derek’s very skin is starting to itch with the need for more contact when Stiles moans, “C’mon, Derek, fuck me.”

It’s all the invitation Derek needs to flip them, catching Stiles’ head before it hits the pillow and kissing him hard and wet.  Stiles rolls his hips up, urging Derek to thrust deep and grunting out a rough “Yeah” when he does.  Getting a leg up around Derek’s waist, Stiles keeps pulling him in and murmuring, “Fuck, yeah, that’s it, that’s fucking perfect.”

Derek groans, beyond words now, and buries his face against Stiles’ throat.  He’s always so careful about marking Stiles up and Stiles has enough bruises, but she touched him there, ran her hand over the exposed, vulnerable skin like she owned it, and Derek doesn’t have time for shame or propriety.  He knows Stiles would stop him in a second if he were opposed, but he doesn’t.  Instead, he threads his fingers through Derek’s hair and holds him close as Derek sucks and bites, rutting steadily into Stiles as he does it.

Derek forces himself to pull away before he goes too far, and when he sees his mark on Stiles’ skin – flushed a deep pink and surrounded by the indentations of teeth – something deep and primal in him feels satisfied.  Maybe later he’ll ask Stiles to do the same to him; the mark won’t stay, but Derek will know it was there.  Now, though, Stiles is groaning, “Yours.  I’m all yours.”

Derek isn’t going to last much longer, and when Stiles starts telling him, commanding him to come, he’s not going to last at all.  He rubs his cheek against Stiles’ and just lets go, surrenders to the throbbing ache in his whole body and lets it take him, one hard shudder at a time.  Stiles is louder than Derek is, moaning as Derek’s thrusts go jerky and uneven, and Derek could fall apart in his arms for how good it is.

But Stiles is still hard, so Derek pushes up enough to reach a hand between them, staying buried inside Stiles as he jerks him.  It doesn’t take much, just a dozen tight, fast strokes and Stiles is coming again, body thrashing weakly under Derek’s weight as he grips Derek’s arms and pants his name.

They’re both completely spent, Derek reluctantly pulling out of Stiles to collapse beside him.  Stiles burrows his way into Derek’s arms, cheek pressed against his chest, and Derek knows Stiles will smack him in the morning for not prodding him to get out of bed and clean up.  But Stiles’ breathing is already evening out, his warm, loose-limbed body so relaxed that Derek can’t even bring himself to move.  It doesn’t hurt that Stiles is thoroughly covered in Derek’s scent, inside and out, and maybe that’s worth a thump on the back of the head later.

&&&

Even after all this time, Derek’s still a little surprised that Mrs. Stilinski (he can’t quite bring himself to think of her as Claudia) actually likes him.  She was suspicious at first – Derek can’t really blame her, given their manner of formal introduction on her couch and the fact that Stiles was only recently of age when he and Derek got together.  But she seems a little baffled by the fact that she likes Derek, too, and somehow that makes it easier.

He knows she and Stiles have worked hard on repairing their relationship over the last couple of years, so he tries to bow out of breakfast (which is really more like lunch, since Stiles slept like a rock until noon).  But Mrs. Stilinski won’t hear of it, and even though Stiles tries to explain things in a way that doesn’t sound like he willingly acted as bait for a multiple murderer, Derek can tell she knows just how serious last night was, how much Stiles put on the line for him.  The least Derek can do is eat waffles at 1:00 in the afternoon and try not to act like he blew Stiles in the shower barely half an hour ago.

But she’s focused mostly on Stiles, and Derek can tell she’s barely holding herself back from reaching out and brushing her thumb beneath Stiles’ black eye, because Derek’s fighting back that urge himself.

“Anyway,” Stiles says between forkfuls of scrambled egg, “even if she tries to recant the confession, her alibi for the fire won’t hold up under scrutiny.”

Mrs. Stilinski’s voice is soft when she turns to Derek.  “I know it’s not going to undo the past, but I hope this gives you some closure.”

Derek thinks back to the look on Kate’s face, the one that Stiles put there.  “It already has.  Stiles is… well, he’s the only person who could have done all this for me.”

Mrs. Stilinski looks at him for what feels like a long time, and he thinks maybe she understands.  The man who killed her husband will be in prison for the rest of his life, but no prison sentence, no conceivable punishment, could ever patch up that hole.  None of them speak for a long time until she finally says to Stiles, “Your father would be so proud of you.”

&&&

They don’t hang around long after they’re done eating – having seen that Stiles is still in one piece, Mrs. Stilinski insists that he goes home and rests.  Derek is reeling so hard from the fact that she referred to Derek’s apartment as Stiles’ home that it takes him almost the entire drive to realize that Stiles has been unnaturally quiet.  Silent, actually.

It’s unsettling, but Derek can make a good guess at the reason for it, so he doesn’t push Stiles to talk.  It’s not until Stiles is curled up on the couch with a blanket and a mug of coffee and Derek is typing up a report, even though they have the rest of the week off, that Stiles speaks.

“Can you tell me about him?  My dad?”

Derek swallows and shuts the laptop.  He’s been expecting something like this for a while – he knows Stiles saw a picture of 15-year-old Derek being comforted by Stiles’ dad after the fire.  Initially, it sent Stiles into a rage that nearly made Derek give up on him as a lost cause.  But it’s been almost two years since then and Derek has always known that Stiles would ask when he was ready.  Derek only wishes he had more to give him.

“He was one of the first ones to the scene.  I’d been at a friend’s house and ran all the way home because… because I knew.  Your dad was already there when I got there.  I tried to go in, but the mountain ash stopped me, and he dragged me back.  I don’t remember much right after that – I was probably kicking and screaming – but he tried to keep me calm, got me a blanket and some water.  Kept the cameras away from me as much as he could.  Laura was out of town for a debate tournament, so he was the only one who was there to take care of me.  I know everyone else – the other cops, the firefighters, the paramedics – were doing their jobs, trying their best to save my family, but your dad never left my side. 

“He offered to let me come home with him until Laura got back, but my uncle Peter actually managed to hang on for a few days and I didn’t want to leave him alone in the hospital in case he woke up.  I still thought there was a chance he could heal.  Your dad visited me at least twice a day, brought me food.  After Peter died and Laura came back, he talked about helping us with the insurance companies, getting us set up in an apartment… but Laura couldn’t deal with any of that, so we just left.  In the middle of the night.  I never got to thank your dad for everything he did for us, but I never forgot it.  You’ve probably worked this much out, but he’s the reason I became a cop.”

Stiles is staring out the window, still gripping tight to his coffee mug, but he’s heard every word that Derek’s said and tears are streaming down his cheeks.

“I didn’t know he’d died until I came back,” Derek continues, voice as soft as he can make it.  “I looked up his file, saw that he had a wife and a son…  I’m sorry I can’t tell you more, and I’m sorry he couldn’t be there for you like he was for me.  But I do know that if it weren’t for him, I would have ended up a lot like Laura – bitter, closed off, consumed by anger.”

“He was there for me,” Stiles says, finally turning to look at Derek.  “For the first ten years of my life.  It wasn’t enough, but I remember that about him, that he was caring to a fault.  I’m glad… I’m glad he helped you.  I really am.”

“I know,” Derek says, hearing the truth of it in Stiles’ heartbeat.  Derek sets the laptop aside and scoots closer to Stiles on the couch, waiting for him to respond.  It takes a few long moments, but Stiles puts the mug on the floor and reaches out for Derek, tugging them together until he’s pressed against Derek’s chest, head tucked under his chin.

Derek kisses the top of Stiles’ head and strokes his back until Stiles stops trembling.  It’s time for Derek to come clean.  “Can I tell you about Kate?”

He feels Stiles nod and cling tighter, and Derek tells the whole story.  How he met this mysterious older woman seemingly by chance.  Now he knows she’d been watching him and his family for a long time, and there was nothing random about their meeting.  But he’d been blind to all that, aware of nothing but this woman who wanted him, paid attention to him, listened to him complain about school and baseball and especially his family.  How nothing in his life was ever private, so she told him they’d keep it a secret, that it would be something only between them.  Washing off her scent so his pack couldn’t smell it.  He never mentioned what his family was – she obviously already knew – but he still doesn’t know for sure whether anything he said or did made it easier for her to kill them.  If he really is to blame, or if he just feels that way because he let himself be used by a murderer just because of the way she smiled at him in the afternoon sunlight.  And that if Stiles is as disgusted with him as much as Derek is with himself, he’ll understand.

When he’s done, Stiles is still quietly crying, but he’s leaned back against the arm of the couch and their positions are reversed, with Derek resting his head on Stiles’ chest, right above his heart.  His arms are wrapped tightly around Derek’s shoulders and he shows no inclination to let go any time soon.

&&&

“She’s going to hate me.  Oh my god, she’s going to hate me.”

Derek looks at Stiles bouncing nervously on his toes and briefly considers telling him a comforting lie.  But he supposes he ought to actually prepare Stiles.  “Probably.  But don’t take it personally – she hates everyone.”

Stiles turns to him with a quavering smile.  “Even you?”

Especially me.  She used to be able to clobber me every full moon, and now I’m one of Beacon Hills’ finest.”

“But she’s your alpha, so she can still clobber you, right?”

“Yep.  But now I can arrest her for it,” Derek says with a grin, looping his arm around Stiles’ waist.  He wasn’t sure about bringing Stiles to the Sacramento airport to meet Laura, but they’re partners – in everything – and besides, Stiles can handle acting as a buffer for a little while.

Actually, though she’s only planning on being in town for a few days, Stiles probably has a better chance of convincing Laura to come back for good than Derek does.   He’s still surprised she agreed to come back at all, even after he told her that Kate had been caught, and maybe Stiles can show her that not all of Beacon Hills’ residents are psychopaths.  Some are just semi-reformed juvenile delinquents who are now allowed to carry a gun and can talk their way out of nearly everything.  Derek hates to encourage the little spark of con artist in Stiles, but he’s hard to hate for very long (Derek is well aware of this), and Laura does still have a sense of humor.  It’s buried pretty deep, but it’s there.

After a few moments of stillness, Stiles squirms and looks at his watch.  “Isn’t she supposed to be here by now?”

“She’s on her way to the terminal,” Derek says.  “Plane just landed a few minutes ago.”

Stiles looks around for the arrivals board, though there isn’t one in their sightline, and then turns back to stare at Derek.  “Your sense of smell is not that good.”

Derek tilts his head up, acts like he’s sniffing the air.  “She was in seat… 47B, so it probably took her a little longer to get off the plane.”  Stiles is still gaping at him.  “No, I can’t smell her, you idiot.  But she’s my alpha.  I can feel it when she’s close.”

And he can.  Even though he’s in for an awkward few hours, if not days, just knowing that his only packmate is coming back to him tugs at something in his chest.  He looks over at Stiles, who is craning his head up to search through the crowd coming through the gates.  Well, maybe not his only packmate.

Still, when he catches sight of Laura – he can’t smell her just yet, since airports wreak merry hell on his nose and ears – he stands up a little straighter, his heart beats a little faster.  She’s still his big sister; he still wants her to be proud of him, even if it’s in her own begrudging way.

Stiles spots her a moment later.  “Is that her?  Because those look like Hale eyebrows.”

Derek has to glare at him for that.  “What do you know about Hale eyebrows?”

“Um, plenty.”  He reaches up and, mortifyingly, smoothes a thumb over both of Derek’s brows in turn.  “I know these babies like the back of my hand.  Better, probably.  I’m fluent in Hale-eyebrowese.  Right now they’re telling me… ‘Stiles, get your hands off my face, my sister can see and she’s never going to let me live this down.’”

It’s a distressingly accurate translation, confirmed when Laura walks up to them, dragging a small, battered suitcase behind her.  “So this is a Stiles,” she says by way of greeting.

Stiles grins, hands on his hips.  “If there’s more than one, I don’t think I want to know about it.”

“Me neither,” Derek mumbles, and Stiles elbows him in the ribs.

Laura doesn’t do anything so radical as actually smile, but she does look slightly less murderous, glancing between Stiles and Derek.  “God, you two reek of each other.”

“Well, we try,” Stiles says, and Derek prays for the ground to open up beneath his feet and swallow him whole.

But Laura just smirks.  “So, baby brother, you gonna actually say anything to me or do I just keep talking to your hand puppet here.”

Stiles doesn’t miss a beat.  “See, I’d take offense to that, but just last night, Derek had four of his fingers up my—”

Those same fingers are now clamped over Stiles’ mouth and Derek says, “It’s good to see you, Laura.”  He’s actually dying to hug her, to press his cheek against hers and breathe in the scent of pack, but he won’t do it here.  Hopefully, she’ll let him once they get back to his apartment.  She was never big on touch, but Derek has the feeling they both need it after so long apart.

Laura squints at both of them for a moment with an unsettlingly assessing eye and then nods once, like they’ve passed some kind of initial test and she’s not actually going to head to the nearest counter to change her ticket for the next flight back to New York.  Derek hope that means it’s safe to let Stiles talk again.

Stiles seems to get that Laura’s not one for small talk and turns in the direction of the exit.  “No checked bags, I’m guessing?”

Laura seems surprised at that.  “No.”

“Awesome,” Stiles says, leading the way out.  “No way we could have fit three people and extra bags in Derek’s ridiculously impractical car.”

Derek very nearly says something about Stiles’ almost-sexual attraction to that “ridiculously impractical” car, but he decides to leave any crudeness up to Stiles.  Besides, Laura immediately says, “Is he still driving that Camaro?”

Stiles laughs.  “Yeah.  He’s never gonna give that thing up.”

He’s right here,” Derek mumbles, half a step behind them.

Laura turns around and tugs him forward until he’s walking right between her and Stiles.  “Keep up, baby brother.”

It’s not exactly the warmest of greetings, but it’s a start.  Stiles keeps talking, telling Laura about the exciting life that is law enforcement in Beacon Hills, and Derek quietly slips his hand into Stiles’ and squeezes.