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    There were many fun facts about Stiles. He had ADHD, his dad was the sheriff, his best friend was a werewolf, and every full moon he got an overwhelming urge to eat fish. Well, that was a bit of a lie. He pretty much always had a craving for fish, but on full moons it became nearly impossible to ignore, so he always headed over to the local fish market and bought the freshest things they had available. Chuck, the owner, had learned early on not to lie to Stiles about what that was, and since then they’d come to an understanding. Stiles came once, or rarely twice, a month to buy fifty or so dollars worth of the freshest catch, and Chuck gave him the best he had.

Stiles wasn’t sure where his mother had gotten their monthly feasts when he was a kid, but he was more than willing to carry on the tradition. Besides, the craving was really hard to ignore.

The Sheriff was ambivalent about fish.

He ate it, though, just like he ate all of the rest of the healthy food Stiles prepared for him with the grumpy indignance of a man long used to his son’s meddling, but unwilling to put up with it entirely complaint-free. Which was one of the reasons Stiles was planning leaving the pack meeting earlier than usual that night.

“I know,” he said waving a hand to ward off Scott’s pouting. “I know you think you need me for the negotiations or whatever, but you and Derek are getting along a lot better now that Jackson’s de-kanima’ed. I seriously think you’ll be okay. I mean, none of his betas are harassing you at summer school, are they? I thought you and Isaac were getting along great, and you know Erica’s more bark than bite, not that she doesn’t have spunk and an alarming disregard for Roscoe's vehicular integrity, but that’s been a couple of months, I think she’s really settling into the whole wolf thing. You all are.”

Stiles had become immune to Scott’s puppy face when they were still in elementary school, but that didn’t stop him from trying it every once in a while.

“But Stiles-”

“No, you’re not listening,” he insisted, walking slightly ahead of his friend toward where his car was parked. “I’ll still give you a ride, but I have to be home in time to make dinner for my dad. We’re having turkey burgers and if I’m not there by the time he gets off work he’ll make a frozen pizza or something. Besides, all we’re talking about is full moon stuff, right? I have nothing to do with that.”

Which didn’t hurt his feelings nearly as much as Scott seemed to think it should.

“You know you can come-”

“Nope,” Stiles said, pausing to clamber into his jeep and reach over to unlock the passenger door for Scott. In front of the school a black camaro pulled up and he watched as Boyd, Erica and Isaac piled in. That was probably for the best because he wasn’t at all sure he’d be able to squeeze the three of them into his own cramped back seat. Not that Derek’s flashier car was any roomier, but still.

Scott was watching him watch the car and Stiles rolled his eyes as it peeled out of the parking lot.

Very subtle.

“Scott, for the last time, you aren’t hurting my feelings by going out into the woods with your werewolf buddies. I’m fine. I’ve been fine. Besides, I’ll be spending my time cooking like I normally do.”

Scott’s face twisted into the commiserating expression he used when Stiles referred to his mom, even tangentially. That hadn’t been his goal, but it shut him up pretty effectively, anyway.

“If you’re sure,” Scott said, still sounding doubtful.

“I’m sure,” Stiles said and he knew his heart or scent or whatever didn’t change because he was sure. Full moons were almost as special for him as they were for the wolves, just in a different way.

 

---------------------

 

They were walking into Derek’s modern loft when Stiles phone vibrated and he flailed a bit with his backpack before he could find the right zippered compartment. Jackson shouldered his way past with Lydia tagging along behind.

“Nice moves, Stilinski,” he said, but there was more sarcasm to his comment than true bite.

“Sure thing, Reptar,” he muttered and finally liberated his phone just as the screen went blank and the missed call icon popped up.

Since pretty much everyone he knew was in the room he frowned at it for a second before he realized that one very important person wasn’t.

Stiles dialed, not bothering to listen to the voicemail that popped up.

His dad answered before the second ring.

“Stiles, did you listen to my message?” he asked with a startling kind of urgency. All of the background noise in the loft seemed to fade out as Stiles turned his back to the room at large and pressed his free hand to his other ear, focusing on the conversation.

“What? No, no I called you right back. Well, I just assumed it was you because-”

“Stiles,” his dad said with an eerily calm voice he only used when talking to the victims of violence. He tried to respond, but his throat was inexplicably dry. Ever since Matt had pretty much wiped out the sheriff’s department, they’d been a lot more honest with each other, werewolf shenanigans included, but Stiles hadn’t heard that tone directed at him in a long time, not since right after the Hale fire and his mom’s subsequent death.

“Stiles, I need you to have a seat,” his dad continued when he didn’t say anything.

There was suddenly a chair pressing against the back of his knees and he sat heavily, heart already thudding too quickly in his chest. Whatever it was, Stiles was fairly certain it wasn’t going to go over well with him, and apparently his dad was of the same opinion.

“Okay,” he finally managed and a heavy hand came to rest on his shoulder. Stiles didn’t look to see whose it was, but he was pretty sure it was Derek’s, going by the smell of forest paths and sunshine.

Not that he’d ever share that particular observation with the alpha.

Still, the weight of it was a comfort.

“Look, son, I don’t want you to worry too much because we’re putting all of our resources into this case,” which really wasn’t that reassuring since most of the new deputies were fresh graduates, “but there was a robbery today-”

“We were robbed?” he asked, incredulous. That made next to zero sense, not only because it was insane that someone would deliberately target the sheriff, but also because the Stilinskis didn’t really have much in the way of robbable belongings. Well, they had a tv and his game systems and compu-

“No, we weren’t robbed, Stiles,” his dad said and Stiles could imagine him running a hand over his face.

“Then-”

“It was the bank, someone robbed the city bank this afternoon. They killed the guard and cleaned out the safety deposit boxes,” he said and Stiles frowned for a second before he fully understood what his father had just told him.

“They, they didn’t take it, did they?” he asked with a hitch in his breath and the hand on his shoulder tightened a bit, just enough to remind him to breathe and he took a shuddering breath because if they’d taken it-

“Stiles, I’m sorry,” his dad replied, voice thick and then someone, Scott, probably, was taking the phone and Derek’s concerned face was swimming into his vision and that was all wrong because Derek didn’t get concerned, especially not about Stiles, but things weren’t really making much sense at all because his mother had gotten that safety deposit box for him in the days before she’d died. She’d said it was the safest possible place for him to put put his-

“Stiles,” Derek said, and from his tone it wasn’t the first time. “Stiles,” he said again, more quietly when he tuned back in. The sounds in the loft clashed loudly with his too-quick breathing and he felt vaguely nauseous, like how Scott described the motion sickness he’d used to feel before getting wolfy. Like Stiles was being shifted around randomly without being able to see the horizon.

“I’m gonna be sick,” he said and then he was being half-carried to the bathroom where he promptly hunched over the toilet and threw up the mystery meat lasagna he’d had for lunch, along with the milk and peas and yeah, the sight of that disgusting-looking combinating just made him keep dry heaving until someone reached over and flushed so he wouldn’t have to see it anymore. That helped. So did the wet washcloth that was carefully wiped across his face.

When he thought he could control his limbs, Stiles backed up until he was resting against the wall, the cold of the tiles seeping into his pants and numbing his butt, but he was too overwhelmed and nauseous to focus on that or pretty much anything other than the total horror of what had happened.

“You want to tell me what’s going on?” Derek said and it took Stiles a second to get his bearings and realize it was just the two of them in the small room. The door was closed behind where Derek was crouching to face him.

Eye to eye.

Stiles vaguely remembered something about that being the best way to talk to kids, to get down on their level. It made the person seem more trustworthy or something like that. Stiles wasn’t a kid, but he had to admit it kind of worked.

Except that it was Derek doing it. Derek who had, until recently, thrown him into walls and smashed his face with his own steering wheel. Derek who Stiles had kept from drowning for a few hours when the werewolf had been paralyzed in the high school’s pool and who had later made sure Stiles was taken to safety when the shit hit the fan at the sheriff’s station. The same Derek who had sought him out after the whole Jackson’s rebirth because of true love fiasco and had drained his pain and made him talk about what had happened in the Argent’s basement.

That Derek.

Personal growth looked good on him, as did pretty much anything, or nothing.

Whatever, Stiles was too freaked out to think about shirtless Derek and yeah, he was having a phenomenally awful time focusing.

Which was probably why he blurted out, “My mom gave it to me,” instead of trying to come up with a credible lie.

Derek’s impressive eyebrows rose. “Your mother gave you what was inside the safety deposit box at the bank?”

“And it was stolen,” Stiles said, probably unnecessarily since Derek was a werewolf and had clearly eavesdropped on the conversation he’d had with his dad.

From his expression, it was also clear that Derek didn’t really understand why Stiles was freaking out so much. That was to be expected, really, but he would have thought Derek, of all people, would understand the importance of family heirlooms, since most of the Hale’s things had burned up in the fire. Not that it was an heirloom. Well, it kind of was.

Sort of.

“I need it back,” he said instead of trying to explain it. “It’s extremely important.”

Derek’s eyebrows furrowed and he nodded. “Your dad said he’s working on it, I don’t think-”

“I need to talk to him, can I have my phone?” he said instead of listening to whatever excuse Derek was going to come up with because Stiles already had about a dozen theories about the robbery, already and each one was more ominous than the last.

Not one to waste words, or speak when actions would do, Derek nodded and tilted his head slightly before opening the door and taking the phone someone handed to him. The hand looked like it belonged to Isaac.

“Here,” Derek said, giving it to Stiles and he took a deep, sort of calming, but not really, breath and dialed his dad.

“Stiles, are you okay? I would pick you up if I could-”

“No, I’m fine,” he said, making a face at Derek when he rolled his eyes at the lie. “I’ll be fine,” he amended when it sounded like his dad was going to protest. “Look, do we know what they were after? Did they, did it look like they were targeting anyone in particular?” he asked, averting his eyes and picking at a hole in his jeans so he wouldn’t have to see Derek’s expression. There wasn’t a lot he could safely ask over the phone, not with werewolves or the NSA or whoever overhearing and wondering.

His dad heaved a sigh. Tired, stressed, concerned. It wasn’t a new sound. “I don’t know, kid, I don’t think so, but I can’t be sure without knowing what else was taken.”

Stiles swallowed and grimaced at the awful taste still lingering in his mouth.

“Yeah, okay, I’ll, um, I’ll have my phone if you hear anything or-”

“Stiles, you know this is an official investigation, I can’t-”

“Dad, I was going to go to the lake tomorrow,” he said before he could think better of it because his dad needed to know more than Stiles was concerned about what anyone listening in would think.

There was some muffled swearing and then then a gruff, “Put Hale on the phone, I know he’s there. Scott said he was helping you out when you- Scott said he was helping you.”

“Fine,” Stiles said and handed over the phone to a baffled-looking Derek.

That was another new look. Stiles was on a roll.

He listened as best he could to Derek’s side of the conversation, but it was mostly just him grunting and saying yes or no to whatever it was the sheriff was telling him. Probably some variation of keep Stiles out of this.

When he finally handed the phone back Stiles was pretty much ready to vibrate out of his skin, which was ironic and also terrible and his stomach gave another sickening twist, but he forced himself to concentrate.

“Yeah?” he said anxiously.

“Stiles, I want you to stay with Derek until we know for sure that you’re not the target, okay?”

“Why Derek?” he asked, forcing a bit of a whine into his voice, but he mostly asked just because it was a baffling kind of a thing for his dad to agree to, let alone suggest. Then again he’d taken the whole werewolf news surprisingly well. Not that he was new to the supernatural aspect of life, but still, as far as Stiles knew his dad hadn’t been aware of the Hale family secret, not until Derek had showed up out of the blue one day when the bruises were still green on Stiles’ cheek and had insisted they tell the sheriff everything.

That had been an awkward conversation, but afterward they’d all kind of bonded over dinner and baseball, so it hadn’t been a total disaster.

“You’ll be safer with him than you’d be at home alone. Now, tell me how you’re feeling.”

“I’m, um,” he said, glancing at Derek and then closing his eyes because that was a lot safer than watching the werewolf’s reactions. “I threw up,” he admitted. “It kind of felt like motion sickness, I guess, and I think it stopped, actually.”

“Good, that’s good to know. Keep me informed, okay? If anything else happens I want to know about it. As for you going to the lake. Well, we’ll try to get this thing solved as quickly as we can.”

“Do you think,” Stiles started, then had to swallow, glancing at Derek out of the corner of his eye. “Do you think one of them could help you. With tracking or something?”

But instead of reminding Stiles, not for the first time, that they weren’t, in fact, dogs, Derek just nodded. “I’ll send Scott and Isaac to the bank, see if they can sense anything.”

Stiles relayed that to the sheriff and he thanked Derek.

“Now I don’t want you bothering him while you’re there. I’ll let the station know you’re out sick for a little while, so no one will be around to fetch everyone coffee and do the filing. No going anywhere alone, do you hear me? And no going to the lake, either, we don’t know-”

“I got it,” Stiles interrupted, “I’ll behave. Can I at least run home to get some clothes and stuff?”

“Be back at his place before dark, and I don’t want you driving,” he replied in his no-nonsense sheriff voice.

“Okay, okay, I love you, I’m sorry-”

“There’s nothing you need to apologize for, Stiles. You hear me? There’s no way we could have known this would happen-”

“But mom-”

“She thought it was the safest place for it, too. I love you, kid, stay out of trouble and I expect a phone call if anything else happens.”

“Okay, yeah. Bye, Dad.” Stiles said and hung up. He must have just been sitting there, staring at his phone because suddenly Derek was taking it out of his hand and offering to help him stand up.

“Come on, the sheriff wants you back here before dark, so we need to get going if you want to stop by your house. Boyd and Erica already took off to check it out and Lydia said she hopes you feel better.”

“Scott and Isaac?” he asked, assuming Jackson had left with Lydia. He let himself be pulled to his feet and swayed for a second before he regained his equilibrium. Everything still seemed a bit off-kilter, but it wasn’t as bad as before.

“Headed to the bank to act like bystanders while they try to sniff out a lead. There are extra toothbrushes under the sink,” Derek said, slipping the phone into Stiles’ back jeans pocket and heading out the door before Stiles could get his face under control. Not that he thought Derek had seen it, but still, pretty much any touch was cause for arousal, even with the adrenaline still pumping through his body, which probably acted to confuse it a bit about what was going on, so yeah, fear boners were a thing.

Stiles had to nearly dunk his entire head under the cold water before he could get himself back under control, then brushed his teeth twice.

His dad and the werewolves were on the case, so things were probably going to be okay.

Hopefully.

 

----------------

 

That night Stiles used the limited supplies in Derek’s kitchen to make the two of them dinner.

“How is it you don’t have an actual pot, but you have ingredients for tacos?” he asked as he sauted the beef in a frying pan. It was the only pan Derek had. Stiles had checked. Twice.

Derek, who was sitting at one of the bar stools, just shrugged and went back to reading the book perched on the counter in front of him. Stiles had noticed that about him. After the dust had settled and things had calmed down a bit, Derek never seemed to go anywhere without something to read, including e-books on Stiles’ phone, when it occasionally came to that. Stiles was planning to ask the pack if they wanted to chip in to help get Derek an e-reader of his own for Christmas, or his birthday, but hadn’t quite gotten around to it.

“So, is it going to be a problem, me being here during the full moon?” he asked, watching the meat simmer and deliberately turning his back to Derek so he’d have to use his words instead of either just shaking or nodding his head.

“It’s fine, Stiles,” he replied and Stiles couldn’t keep himself from snorting.

“Fine, right. Well, whatever, dude. I hope you like seafood because you’re taking me to pick some up tomorrow and that’s what I’m making for dinner.”

Derek was quiet for a few minutes and Stiles thought that was the end of their conversation, so he busied himself getting out all the other ingredients and setting them up on the counter so they’d be ready when the meat and spice mixture was done cooking.

“What lake were you planning on going to?” Derek asked quietly and Stiles spun around to face him. It took him a stupid number of seconds to realize that they weren’t exactly on the same page and he let out a controlled breath.

“Uh, the one on the edge of the preserve, off that access road near Old Towne Road,” he said and turned back to his cooking, narrowly missing getting spat on by the hot mixture as it bubbled.

“That’s partially on Hale land,” Derek said, sounding, of all things, confused. “My parents told us never to go swimming there, especially not during a full-”

“Dinner’s done,” Stiles interrupted, reaching up to get a pair of plates. “Come on, I slaved all night making this,” he said as he glanced over his shoulder with a grin.

Derek rolled his eyes, like Stiles knew he would, and dropped that particular thread of conversation. “It took you less than half an hour. I know because I’ve been here the entire time.”

“Yeah, well, the cook says it’s time to eat so hop to it, wolfy.”

“Wolfy?” Derek asked, raising one eyebrow and Stiles scowled at him because that was entirely unfair. He’d never managed to get his face to do that and envied how cool and sassy it made Derek look. Not that he even needed the assist, he looked awesome pretty much all the-

Stiles shook his head and waved a plate in Derek’s direction. “Come on, I’m not dishing it up, too. I’m sure you can manage that much.”

Derek finally stood up and walked around the counter to where the food was, hooking his chin over Stiles’ shoulder and breathing in a deep breath. “Smells good,” he said and Stiles could feel his entire head blush. It wasn’t just his face, either. Oh, no, even his ears felt hot and Derek chuckled before nudging him to the side with his hip, much more gently than he’d treated Stiles before the whole Gerard thing. It was almost like the bruise that had marred his cheek and lingered there for a few weeks afterward had reminded Derek that not everyone was an unbreakable behemoth of a werewolf. That or he was taking Stiles’ dad’s instructions seriously and didn’t want to do anything to mess Stiles up, even unintentionally.

Whatever.

Stiles was hungry and there were so many more things to worry about than what was going on in Derek Hale’s head. Unless it was about the thing Stiles never talked about with anyone ever and he really, really hoped the police figured out who had broken into the bank because Stiles needed the contents of that safety deposit box back as quickly as possible.

Preferably with its contents intact.

Oh, that was a terrible thought.

“Yeah, on second thought I think I lost my appetite,” Stiles said, leaving his half-made tacos on the counter and stumbled over to the living room. Well, the space that was commonly used as the living room, which also sported Derek’s bed and a clear view of the kitchen. It was a very industrial-looking open concept that Stiles had appreciated at first, but it was definitely short on the whole privacy aspect of things. He thought briefly about heading up the spiral stairs to see if he could freak out in peace, but wasn’t quite sure where that led and had seen Peter perched on the steps one too many times to want to make the venture alone.

“Stiles?” Derek said, following him, also sans plate.

“No, what? Hey, go back to the kitchen, I made the food, someone should eat it,” he said collapsing onto the couch. Stiles knew he should eat, too, but the potential consequences of the whole situation were too messed up to ignore.

Before he could protest anymore Derek was sitting down beside him, one arm thrown over the back of the couch behind Stiles’ head and he could feel the supernaturally hot body heat emanating from the werewolf. His own temperature was a few degrees lower than most people’s, but his mom’s had been the same, so he’d never worried about it. He wondered if Derek noticed.

“Does this have to do with the robbery?” Derek asked quietly, like he knew it was a delicate topic of conversation.

It was probably the most delicate of all the conversation topics, but Stiles knew how to keep a secret. That had been the last thing his mom had whispered to him before she’d died of an illness none of the doctors could even begin to understand. A kind of wasting disease that had killed her in a week, start to finish.

Stiles didn’t want to die like that.

“It’s really important that I get the contents of my safety deposit box back,” he said into the quiet of the loft. It was softly lit by lamps since the sun had set. Mood lighting, he would have thought in any other circumstance.

“How important?” Derek asked, apparently having picked up on the subtext afterall.

Stiles looked over at him, waited until they made eye contact. “If I don’t get it back before the full moon next month I’ll probably get really sick and possibly even die. Depending on what happens between now and then I could still get sick, and there is no cure, short of getting that box back.”

Derek’s pale eyes flicked back and forth between his own, like he was trying to figure out if Stiles was lying, but he really wasn’t.

“Have you told-”

“No one else knows,” Stiles said, “just you and my dad. I want to keep it that way, too. If we don’t get it back, or if what’s inside is destroyed then I’m dead. That’s it, end of story. And if I-,” he paused and broke eye contact, looking down at where his hands were tangled together. “If I start acting weird, just try to contain me, okay? Don’t let me-”

“I won’t let you get hurt, if I can help it,” Derek said and his hand joined Stiles’, slowly untangling his fingers from each other until they were wrapped around Derek’s.

“Thanks,” he said quietly, and Derek hummed in response.

They sat like that for a few more minutes before Derek made him get up and head back to the kitchen. And for the first time since he’d gotten the phone call from his dad, Stiles felt himself relax.

 

-------------

 

He woke up with a choked-off scream. It felt like there were bugs crawling under his skin and he flailed so hard he hit the floor, body convulsing from the awful ghost of the touch, but there wasn’t anyone there, except for Derek whose eyes were glowing red as he rushed over to Stiles’ side. It wasn’t a far journey, just from the bed to the couch, but by the time he got there the phantom sensation was gone and Stiles was shivering on the floor, panting and crying.

“Stiles, what-” Derek started to say, but he didn’t finish the sentence, probably because Stiles hands were clawing at his arms, trying to drag Derek down or himself up or something, anything to get rid of the horrible memory of the strange touch.

“Get it off me,” he gritted out, and Derek finally got with the program, sliding his hands up and down Stiles’ arms and chest and just like that he could feel his own skin again, his delicate human skin that wasn’t being caressed by a stranger, and he fell back against the floor.

“Fuck, that was awful,” he breathed, bringing the heels of his hands up to his eyes to scour away the tears and so he wouldn’t have to see the look on Derek’s face. “Ugh, I think I might throw up again, but I don’t want to because dinner was actually pretty good. I’m just going to stay here for a while. Sorry for waking you up,” he said, not really thinking it would work.

Derek snorted and yeah, that was pretty much what he expected to have happen. “You honestly think I’m just going to leave you here on the floor with no explanation after what just happened?”

Yeah, no.

He gave his face a final scrub and lowered his arms, staring up into the darkness, vaguely illuminated by the nearly-full moon.

“It has to do with the box. Someone opened it, and-”

He clenched his jaw and dug his nails into his palms, trying not to think about the sense of violation he’d felt. It was almost as overwhelming, just the thought of it was enough to bring it back almost as strongly as-

But then Derek’s hands were on him, again, lifting him easily, like he was a child and then instead of putting him back on the couch, he brought Stiles over to his bed and dropped him onto it.

“You don’t have to talk about it, but I’m not letting you out of my sight until this is over,” Derek said, like it was as simple as that. “Do we need to tell your dad now or-”

“No, no,” Stiles said, regathering his wits. He wasn’t really sure what was happening, anymore, just that he felt unbalanced, yet strangely secure sprawled on Derek’s bed with the werewolf sliding under the covers next to him. “No, we can tell him in the morning. I don’t know if it will do any good, though-”

“We’ll talk about it in the morning, then. Go to sleep, Stiles,” Derek said, dragging the covers up to cover them both.

The spot Stiles was lying on still retained some of Derek’s excessive body heat and before he could even form an argument his eyes were slipping shut at the all-encompassing feeling of peace.

Nothing would get to him while Derek was there.

Well, that wasn’t quite true, but Stiles wanted to believe it.

 

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Predictably, his dad did not take the news of the phantom touch very well.

“Stiles, do you want me to come over?” he asked, concerned and Derek was giving him that look again, the one that said Stiles could trust him and that he was also concerned for his wellbeing even though they both knew he didn’t have the whole story. He hadn’t pushed it, though, which Stiles was grateful for. It was kind of hard to explain, plus his mom had forbidden him from talking about it with anyone at all ever.

“No, dad, I’m, well I’m not fine, clearly, but Derek’s helping me and please tell me you have a lead or something.”

Across the table from him, Derek pretended like he wasn’t listening.

The faker.

His dad let out a long breath and Stiles could tell he hadn’t gotten much, if any, sleep. “This one’s a tough nut to crack, kid. I’ve talked to Scott and Isaac, though, they seem to think they caught a strange scent, but by the time they’d gotten there the place was crawling with police and news crews and curious pedestrians. I don’t know what to say, Stiles.”

The hopelessness in his tone was gut-wrenching, almost as bad as the vertigo Stiles had experienced the day before.

“Hey, it’s going to be okay,” he said with false joviality and Derek rolled his eyes, probably because he could hear the lie and the sheriff couldn't see him.

"Stiles," his dad said, sounding as exhausted as he probably was, but he still managed to put a hint of a exasperation into his voice.

"Okay, gotta go, time for breakfast," he said in the same upbeat tone.

"Keep me updated, Hale," his dad said before Stiles could click the call end button.

Stiles winced and glanced up at Derek, who didn't seem altogether impressed.

"Stiles, I know you're not telling me everything, and I'm not going to force you to, but if there's something I need to know, I trust that you'll inform me."

If their situations had been reversed, Stiles was pretty sure he wouldn't have stopped badgering Derek until he'd told him every single detail, so it was probably a good thing they were so different.

Good and likely frustrating for the werewolf.

"Breakfast?" Stiles asked, trying for a change in subject.

Derek nodded and stood up, placing his hand on Stiles' shoulder when he tried to follow.

"No, I've got it, you cooked dinner, the least I can do is make breakfast."

Stiles let Derek do what he wanted and sat quietly at the table, feeling a lot better than he had been. Actually, he'd slept pretty well after Derek had tossed him into bed with him. Surprisingly well given that it was the first time Stiles had ever been in bed with another person that wasn't Scott, and he didn't count since they were practically brothers.

But they'd just slept, of course. Stiles didn't think Derek was the kind to take advantage of him being freaked out of his mind thinking someone who wasn't there was touching him. Obviously his father had thought the same or else Stiles probably wouldn't have been where he was, under Derek's care.

He heard the sound of water running and winced when he realized they hadn't cleaned up the dishes from the night before. That whole one-pan thing was definitely not working in Derek's favor.

Stiles was actually pretty surprised he was bothering to cook instead of just throwing a couple of boxes of cereal on the table and calling it breakfast.

"Hey Derek, you don't have to, SHIT!" he shouted, twisting as something caressed his back, brushing his fur the wrong way, only he didn't have fur because he was a person and unlike the first time the touch didn't stop for several long, intensely awful moments.

When he was able to tune back into what was happening outside of his own body's sensations Derek was looming over him and Stiles realized he was on the floor again.

"We've gotta stop meeting like this," he said and relished in Derek's startled laugh. He wasn't actually amused, though, more relieved, Stiles thought.

"I'm not going to bother asking if you're okay," Derek responded, carefully helping him to his feet and then immediately onto the chair he'd. Huh. He'd somehow kicked over.

"Appreciated," Stiles said. His teeth were chattering, but he wasn't cold, not really.

Regardless, Derek rubbed his palms up and down Stiles' arms, and just like the previous night it felt like he was being cleansed.

"My back," he whispered and Derek's hands moved there and finally, the feeling vanished entirely and Stiles curled forward, head resting on his crossed arms as he sighed in relief.

"Better?" Derek asked, probably not knowing what he was even asking about, but Stiles managed to nod his head.

Derek's broad hands didn't stop, though, they brushed up and down Stiles' spine in a firm caress, so different from the awful foreign touch.

Eventually Stiles sighed again and sat back against the chair, picking his phone up from the table where he'd placed it after the call with his dad.

"I'm just going to,' he said, not finishing his sentence because he was texting a quick message.

It happened again, he wrote, showed Derek, then sent the text at his nod.

"Is this going to keep happening?" Derek asked quietly. He was still kneeling in front of Stiles, practically between his spread knees and that wasn't an image he needed in his mind. Not that his body was primed for anything other than terror, apparently.

"I sincerely hope not," he replied because that was the best answer he could give under the circumstances.

Derek nodded again and stood up, holding out his hand for Stiles to take. "In that case you should be on a soft surface. I don't want to have to explain any more bruises to your father. Come on, I'll cook and you lie down."

Stiles let himself be led and rolled his eyes when he saw their destination. "Oh, so you're going to serve me breakfast in bed? Really?"

"If I was serving you breakfast in bed, you'd know it," Derek replied and Stiles barked a laugh.

"Okay, okay, fine. I'll just stay here and attempt to not brain myself on any solid surfaces while you whip us up some grub. Hey, what are we having, anyway. Wait, can you even cook? I've seen what's in your kitchen, dude and it's not all that well equipt."

Derek rolled his eyes and walked away. "It'll be fine, Stiles," he said.

He couldn't help but grin in response.

 

------------------

 

Taking a werewolf to a fish market the day of a full moon was not something Stiles had ever thought he'd do. The fact that it was Derek and that he was an alpha was actually a bit problematic.

The thing was, he noticed things.

Like, all the things.

He noticed the way Stiles moved between the displays, the way he dismissed any of the catch that was over a day old, the way he tried to surreptitiously sniff the things he was considering buying.

It was a bit disconcerting, really.

"Yo, you wanna back up a step, dude, people are going to start to suspect something," Stiles said after he nearly backed into Derek for the third time. The mollusks he'd been looking at were almost bad.

"Chuck, I'd give these another day at the most, you might want to freeze them if you're set on selling," he said instead of waiting for Derek's reply. Which probably involved his eyebrows doing something dramatic.

Chuck, well used to Stiles' commentary, just nodded placidly and let them keep browsing.

"You have a preference?" Stiles asked, glancing over his shoulder. Derek was still staring, well, glaring, at the mollusks like they'd personally offended him.

"How did you know they were about to go bad?" he asked, looking at Stiles, though he didn't refute his assessment, so there was that. Stiles thought his sense of smell might be on par with werewolves when it came to fishy sea stuff, but that was his first solid evidence to back it up. Scott hadn't ever really participated in the monthly sea food fest. It wasn't really his type of cuisine, even before turning furry.

Stiles shrugged. "My mom insisted I learn all about it, said it's in our blood." And that was the end of that. Thankfully, Derek seemed to buy it because he just nodded and followed along as Stiles looked at the contents of the next display.

"I like fish," Derek said. Stiles could see a few fillets that looked promising, but he'd have to do a more thorough sniff test before buying. He'd made the mistake of forgoing that once and had thrown up the entire night afterward.

"Good thing we're here, then," Stiles said with a smirk. "Yeah, Chuck, can I see that and that," he said, pointing to the fillets. They did their normal song and dance, Stiles taking the waxy paper and sniffing the meat, judging it's quality and freshness, while Chuck pretended it was all completely normal. Only that time Derek was there to watch and it was kind of strange to have an audience.

"This one," Stiles said, handing it back first so Chuck could add it to their pile.

Stiles wasn't sure who all of the pack were going to be there, but it made sense to get more than he normally cooked. If that meant putting up with Derek's strange looks, than so be it.

 

------------------

 

The pack rolled on up to the loft just when Stiles was really getting into the groove of cooking. With Derek lurking just over his shoulder, of course. Something about hot surfaces and passing out or whatever. He didn't really care because it meant he actually had help in the kitchen, for once.

No one mentioned the weirdness going on with him and Stiles appreciated that, though it could have been because the wolves were all on edge, anyway, with the moon about to rise and everyone in each other's space in the loft. Even Peter made an appearance on the stairs. Perched there like a vulture.

"Stiles, are you sure you're going to be okay?" Scott asked for the third time around a mouthful of cereal. He'd been right, Derek did have cereal, which was what the non-fish-inclined were given to eat. Scott didn't seem to care, though Jackson pulled a pretty grumpy face when he saw that was his only other option.

Stiles waved aside the concern. It wasn't as if Scott even knew the extent of the strange that was the phantom touch and ensuing convulsions and Stiles really hoped to keep it that way.

"Yeah, yeah, it's all good," he said, ignoring Derek's exasperated look.

Peter didn't ignore it, though, and gave Stiles a cheeky smile, like he was in on the secret.

He wasn't.

At least as far as Stiles knew, though his mom had kept her own chest of secrets at the Hale house. That was until-

Stiles cleared his throat, wishing the same action would clear his mind as well.

"So, what's the plan for tonight? You guys heading to the preserve?"

Erica shrugged. "That was the plan until you freaked out.”

Stiles made a noise of protest. “Hey, I didn’t freak out, okay. Well, so maybe I did a little bit, but still, don’t let me interfere with your plans. Just, I don’t know, lock me up here for the night.”

Derek’s face said that wasn’t going to happen.

Which was when Isaac and Jackson both wolfed out over something Stiles didn’t catch and lunged across the table at each other, splattering food and generally causing a complete mess.

There was a lot of growling going on after that and when the fur, well, not literal fur, settled half of the meal was on the floor and the betas who had caused the mess were looking shamefaced and human.

“So you guys are definitely going to the preserve to work out some of this aggression, right? I mean, I like board games as much as the next person, but there's no way we'd make it through the evening with everyone intact if this is how it's gonna be."

"Astute observation, Stiles," Peter said with his eerily silky voice. Stiles had to resist the urge to give a full-body shiver that had nothing to do with the phantom sensations he'd been feeling. "I hardly think it's advisable for so many newly bitten, half-trained pups to be kept in such close quarters with such a delicate individual such as yourself."

"I promised your father-" Derek began, but Stiles waved a hand, grimacing at the sad remnants of their meal.

"I know, I know, but as much as it pains me to say, I think Peter, despite being a total creeper, has a point. You guys have to go to the preserve. I'll stay here and it'll be-"

"It won't be fine, Stiles, someone has to stay with you. Your father-"

"No, Derek," Stiles snapped and he didn't need Erica's flash of yellow eyes to tell him that wasn't the best idea. "No," he continued more evenly, "I don't want him to see me like that if I have another episode-"

"Episode?" Scott asked, a panicked look on his face. The rest of the pack were watching him, too, with varying degrees of concern.

Stiles frowned grumpily at Derek, but he just raised his eyebrows, clearly waiting for Stiles to explain it himself.

Peter looked positively delighted.

The ass.

Finally he let out a grumbled breath. "Yes, fine, I've been having these little fits, it's happened a couple of times and I'm afraid it'll remind my dad of when my mom was sick, okay? I don't want him seeing me like that, too."

Which was actually mostly true, though her full-body spasms had involved quite a bit more screaming than his had.

So far.

Scott's eyes wet wide and wet. "Dude, are you dying?" he asked with such a comically horrified look that Stiles had to tamp down the impulse to laugh because it really wasn't funny.

Not even a little bit.

He shook his head, then saw Derek giving him a look and rolled his eyes. "I'm not dying," he said because at that particular moment in time it was the truth. "I just don't want to freak my dad out, that's all. Which is why I'm staying here tonight and you all are going to chase your tails or whatever it is you do on full moons."

"I'd gladly stay behind with young Stilinski. To keep an eye on him," Peter, of all people, said.

Derek glared at his uncle and he grinned placidly back at his nephew until the alpha finally growled out a disgruntled agreement.

"Cool," Stiles mumbled, "leave me with the psycho wolf, this won't end terribly."

Peter grinned.

 

-----------------

 

The evening actually went by pretty uneventfully, surprisingly enough. Peter typed away on his laptop while Stiles watched a movie on his own and before he knew it he was yawning and more than ready to pass out.

He powered down his computer and slipped it into his bag, pausing to stretch out his aching muscles. It felt kind of like he'd done some heavy lifting the day before and was just starting to feel it. Which, yeah, he should have found time earlier that month to go for a swim, but he preferred to do it during full moons, even though his risk of exposure was suddenly greater than it had ever been before, what with his wolf buddies in the woods and all.

Not that it mattered at that juncture, since he was practically under house arrest and even if he wasn't, swimming without the contents of the safety deposit box wouldn't cure the ache that seemed to be seeping into his bones.

Stiles stood up stiffly and tried to stifle his groan of discomfort. His joints did not enjoy what was happening to him. He thought it might be partially psychosomatic, knowing that what amounted to a part of himself was in danger, which meant that all of him was in danger, but that didn’t make the feeling go away.

"Stiles?" Peter asked, for one not sounding like a total douche. He seemed a bit curious, actually, and maybe even a little concerned, but Stiles thought he was probably reading too much into it.

"Yeah, give me a second," he said through gritted teeth. He really was a total moron for putting off his swim for so long. And thinking about it, yeah, six months was way longer than he'd ever gone before without hitting up the lake.

Total. Moron.

Peter's hand was warm on the bare skin of his arm and he watched in confusion as gray likes began creeping up the werewolf's veins as Stiles’ muscles slowly unclenched in relief.

"I think we can both agree that lying isn't going to benefit either of is in this situation, don't you think, little selkie?"

Stiles froze, like a small animal caught in a trap, and yeah, that was pretty much exactly what was happening.

"How-"

"You smell a lot like your mother," Peter said, easing Stiles back down onto the couch. "I found her pelt, once, in the attic at our home. Talia tried to play it off as nothing, but she moved it immediately afterward and then later, when I was in town one day I smelled something identical to that sea-breeze scent, which was when I met Claudia."

Stiles' world view was being altered at an alarming pace. "You knew?" he asked, a dozen other questions in his head, but he couldn't pick which he wanted to ask next.

Peter definitely looked amused. “It wasn’t all that difficult to connect the dots, Stiles. There is quite a bit of lore associated with your kind. A google search will yield an expansive number of results. Not nearly as much as your mother knew, of course. After I convinced her that I was just after information, and not her skin, we had quite an amicable series of lunches at one of the local diners.”

That was, that was pretty crazy, really.

“Did she know about you?” Stiles asked, staring up at Peter, wide-eyed. It was kind of hard to imagine his mother and Peter getting along, but it wasn’t like there was anyone else alive who could refute what he was saying.

Peter shrugged. “She didn’t mention it, but then again she trusted Talia to keep her pelt safe, so I don’t know what that says about their relationship.”

Stiles remembered a little bit about that, how she’d sometimes get a far-off look in her eyes and nothing he or his dad could do would snap her out of it. She’d told him once that it was the call of the sea, urging her to return home to its embrace. If she’d listened to it, if she’d had access to her pelt during those times, Stiles knew she’d never have returned.

“What are you going to do, now?” Stiles asked, watching as Peter settled down on the coffee table in front of him. His mannerisms were different from Derek’s. Smoother, but also like he was more tightly coiled, as if he were just waiting for the opportunity to pounce.

Surprisingly, Peter just shrugged. “During the fire I stumbled onto the chest with your mother’s pelt in it. I remembered reading about the luck associated with selkies and took a chance. It was going to burn, anyway, everything was, so I drew her pelt over me and somehow emerged alive where the rest of the pack was not so lucky.”

Except for Derek and Laura, who hadn’t been home at the time, Stiles knew.

“I was with her,” he admitted, not knowing why, but it seemed like he should for some reason. Listening to Peter talk about it, about the event that tore apart his pack, Stiles felt like he owed him. “We were playing in the backyard, watching the eclipse, and suddenly her skin began to smoke and then she was screaming and-”

“How long did it take for her to die after that?” Peter asked when Stiles didn’t continue. It was a bit of a crass question, but Stiles didn’t blame him for that. He would have wanted to know, too.

After he worked moisture back into his mouth Stiles swallowed. “A week. She was alive for a week after her pelt burned.”

Peter nodded and settled back, his palms pressed against the dark wood. “And do you think they know what it is they’ve found?”

Stiles shrugged. “If they do they haven’t done anything about it, just touched it a few times and generally skeeved me out.”

“And does Derek know?” he asked, his swarmy smile back in full force.

“Of course he doesn’t know. No one knows, just my dad and you, apparently. I’d like to keep it that way, if possible.”

Peter shook his head. “Keeping a secret from a pack of werewolves, your pack, isn’t a good idea.”

“I promised my mother I wouldn’t tell. Those were practically her last words to me, and I don’t plan on breaking that promise if I can help it.”

Peter spread his hands out. “I won’t tell, I just don’t believe this is the wisest course of action.”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Fine, whatever. Now are you going to let me go to the bathroom or not?”

“Can you make it there on your own or do you need a walker?” Peter asked with a smirk.

Stiles didn’t need a walker, but it did take him an embarrassing amount of time to get there and back. Peter smiling smugly the entire time.

 

-------------------

 

He must have fallen asleep at some point because he woke up feeling almost overwhelmingly warm and more than a little sweaty.

"Wha-" he started to say before there was an elbow in his ribs.

"Shut it, Stilinski," Jackson, of all people, grumbled from somewhere near his hip.

That was beyond weird.

In the predawn darkness he could barely see anything, but Stiles was fairly certain he was in Derek's bed pretty much surrounded by half-naked werewolves.

"Do you guys always do this?" he couldn't help but ask and Scott gave a plaintive whine.

"In the m'rning," he said, snuggling against someone’s - Isaac's? - back.

An arm wrapped around Stiles from behind and dragged him against a warm, bare chest. “Go to sleep, Stiles,” Derek grumbled.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, yawning and he slipped back into a peaceful dream.

 

------------------

 

Stiles woke up feeling dehydrated and strangely listless. There were still a few people in bed, Erica, Boyd and Isaac, while Derek and Scott were sitting at the table talking about something in an oddly civil manner. Well, civil for them. There were still some glares being exchanged. Peter was on the couch reading a big leather-bound book and Jackson was curled up in one of the sofa chairs, head lolled back and eyes closed.

“Would you like some water, Stiles?” Peter asked, not looking up. Derek and Scott turned to face first Peter, and then Stiles, clearly trying to read into the offer, but they didn’t have the information they needed to draw the right conclusion.

Not that they understood that, or anything.

“This cuddling thing is weird,” he said, then, “yeah,” because he was really thirsty and didn’t want to get up quite yet.

Part of that was probably due to him not being able to eat as much fish as he’d wanted to the night before. He normally packed away as much food as one of the wolves typically ate, but after Jackson and Isaac’s tiff there hadn’t been enough salvageable fish left to satisfy his unusual hunger. Also, he hadn’t been swimming in half a year. That was likely a bigger part of his general lack of energy.

“Your dad called, but I talked to him,” Scott said, watching Peter head to the kitchen with a curious frown.

Stiles nodded and scooted up so he could lean against the headboard. “How was your run? Anyone freak out?”

Derek gave him a censoring look. “No one freaked out, Stiles. It was fine. How was your night? Peter didn’t feel like telling us anything useful about how you both spent your time.”

And that sounded suspiciously like jealousy. Peter must have thought so, too, because when he emerged from the kitchen he gave his nephew a delighted look.

Stiles took the water with a nod and Peter winked at him. Just to be obnoxious, he was sure.

“I watched a movie, Peter did whatever on his computer, we talked and then I passed out on the couch.”

Which didn’t explain how he’d woken up in bed with the rest of the pack.

“Yeah, you were dead asleep when we got here,” Scott said, “we moved you to the bed so Peter could have the couch. He was just sitting on the stairs watching you.”

“Creepy,” Stiles said, pointing a finger at the wolf in question.

Peter spread his hands and made no objection.

“So you guys always have a cuddle-fest after your full moon shenanigans?” Stiles asked, then sipped at his water. It didn’t taste quite as fresh as he’d like, but it was city water, so it was as good as he could get under the circumstances. Bottled always tended to taste like plastic to him and well water had a metallic aftertaste. He really preferred going straight to the source, but didn’t think any of the wolves, except for Peter, would think that was a good idea. It wasn’t as if he’d get sick from it, but they didn’t know that.

Derek shrugged. “It helps establish the pack scent.”

Which seemed to be all Stiles was going to get out of him.

“What did my dad say?” he asked Scott. “Does he have a lead?”

Scott frowned and shook his head. “Nothing, yet, but he wanted to know when you last went swimming? I told him about the pool, since he already knows stuff, but I don’t think that was what he was asking about.”

Stiles gave Peter a look, but he just shrugged. Which was a pretty good thing, really. He hadn’t offered up any information on his own.

Derek saw the exchange, of course, and his eyebrows drew together.

“Can I have my phone?” he asked before the interrogation could begin. Stiles was really not very good at lying when asked a direct question. Especially not when there people around who could very easily tell he was lying.

Scott tossed it over to him, smacking Erica on the stomach with it, but she just growled and rolled over, smooshing her face against Stiles’ calf and latching onto his foot with one hand.

Stiles fired off a text and a few seconds later his phone buzzed.

He winced and picked up, knowing it wasn’t going to be a pleasant conversation.

“Six months! Stiles, what the hell were you thinking? I can’t bel-”

“Hey, Dad, good to hear from you, too,” he interrupted, watching as Isaac’s face popped up from the other side of Boyd and gave him a look that seemed to be a mix of concerned and confused with maybe a bit of alarm.

Yeah, things were going to get pretty awkward.

“So, no new leads, right? Well, I’ll see if I can come up with anything,” he glanced at Peter who nodded and went back to the book he’d been reading. There had to be some kind of spell or something that could help lead a selkie back to its stolen skin. “But in the meantime I expect you to keep to the diet the doctor outlined for you. I already got groceries for the week-”

“Stiles, I can take care of myself,” his dad said in the same tired tone he always used when he was being lectured about cutting out carbs and eating more lean protein.

“And that’s great,” Stiles said with false joviality, “I’m happy for you, but just because I’m not home doesn’t mean anything’s changed in that front.”

“Hey, I’m supposed to be the one trying to comfort you, not the other way around,” his dad said, but Stiles could tell he was smiling. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten this six months nonsense. We’re going to have a conversation about that when this is all sorted out.”

“Can’t wait,” Stiles said, trying to cut the sarcasm in his voice, but probably not succeeding.

“Uh, huh, sure. Keep me updated, kid. I love you.”

“Love you, too, Dad.”

Stiles hung up and took another sip of his water, dutifully ignoring the looks he was probably getting.

“Well, whose turn is it to make a breakfast run? I’m starving,” Peter said and the wolves were quickly distracted.

Except for Derek, who was watching Stiles with a concerned frown as he handed Isaac the keys to his car. He made Jackson and Scott go, too, while Erica and Boyd slipped into the bathroom together to take a shower and wash off the mud they’d gotten on them during the previous night’s run.

“Why does it matter that you haven’t gone swimming at the lake for six months?” Derek asked after the shower turned on. Peter glanced up from his book, eyes moving between the two of them, Stiles still on the bed, Derek still at the table. It was like a weird kind of showdown or tennis match or something.

“More instructions from my mother,” he said. “I’m supposed to swim every month, but things have been a bit crazy, lately, so I skipped a few.”

Which was all true, but it wasn’t the entire truth.

Peter made a tisking noise and went back to his book, but not before Derek cut him a sharp look.

“Does this have to do with the time limit you gave me yesterday?” he asked and suddenly Peter was interested in their conversation again.

Stiles took another sip of water to give him time to formulate a response, but before he could the strange touch was back and he was choking on a shout, but there was still water in his mouth so he was choking on that, instead.

Peter and Derek reached him at roughly the same time, the former wenching the sloshing glass from his hand while the latter wrestled him until he was hanging over the side of the bed, water and saliva dripping from his mouth as he coughed and gasped. The strange touch just kept coming, though, from the bottoms of his feet all the way up the backs of his legs and spine to the top of his hair. He twisted in Derek’s grip, trying to make the sensation go away, but it kept crawling up him, from multiple hands, it felt like and Stiles whined because it felt so horribly wrong.

Someone was saying something, Peter, he thought, and then Stiles was back on the bed on his side, a line of heat pressed against his front and another at his back, nearly every inch of him covered in werewolf and even though the weird sensation was still there, Stiles was able to breathe again.

“That continues to be the worst,” he grumbled against the smooth expanse of Derek’s chest. Because of course he didn’t have a shirt on. He was wearing pajama pants, at least, but they were thin and his body heat had no trouble escaping from them and warming up Stiles’ bare legs. Bare because for some stupid reason he’d thought wearing shorts to bed was a good idea. Maybe it was, though, because the sensation of the unnatural heat was keeping him from going into another full body spasm over the creepy crawly sensation that still hadn’t ceased.

“So that answers my question about whether or not the box has been opened,” Peter said calmly and Derek grunted, eloquent as always.

Stiles twitched when the invisible hands made another pass and Derek growled. “Are you going to tell me what this is about, now, or should I start guessing?” he asked and yeah, he was pretty much at the end of his rope, apparently.

“Oh, a Stiles sandwich?” Erica said and then there were a couple of more bodies on the bed, pressing Derek and Peter even closer to Stiles until he was pretty thoroughly squished, but for some reason that felt even better than before and he relaxed into it, hardly even feeling the odd ghostly touch.

Derek, of course, grumbled at the interruption, but didn’t order anyone to stop, so they all just stayed there. Erica and Boyd’s damp skin reaching over the Hales to rest against Stiles’ legs and arms until he was firmly ensconced in a werewolf cocoon.

“Well, this is awkward,” Jackson said from across the room. Stiles hadn’t even heard the door open. The phantom sensation had stopped at some point, but he hadn’t been all that eager to unfurl himself from the werewolf cuddle fest, so he hadn’t mentioned it. They probably knew, or at least Peter had probably figured it out since he was plastered along Stiles’ back, and that should have been way creepier than it actually was, but for some reason Stiles couldn’t bring himself to freak out about it.

“Jealous?” Stiles mumbled against the smooth warmth of Derek’s chest and smiled when he felt a rumble emerge from within the alpha.

“Dude, what is going on?” Scott asked a second later, probably just seeing the orgy-like situation.

Isaac, however, didn’t seem the least bit worried because he was suddenly stretched out lengthwise on top of all of them, producing grunts and grumbles, but that was about it. Stiles poked at his stomach, which was partially resting on his hip and Isaac wiggled with a cut-off laugh.

“You can never have enough cuddles,” Stiles said and Scott made a noise of agreement. They’d long ago established that hugging and cuddling were completely acceptable forms of bonding behavior between the two of them. Thus far no one else had been let in on their little secret, but then the werewolf thing had happened and it seemed like no one needed to really discuss it since pack cuddles were apparently a given.

“Put the food on the table, you can eat when you want,” Derek said, making no move to untangle himself from Stiles. A few of the others peeled off, including Isaac, but Peter didn’t seem like he was going anywhere, either.

Stiles was pretty sure he heard Jackson mumble something that sounded a lot like freaks, but then there was a smack of flesh on flesh and he yelped while Erica cackled.

He dozed for a bit after that and when he finally woke up again he was alone on the bed, Peter on the couch where he’d been before and Derek at the table, but no one else seemed to be in evidence.

“They left,” Derek said before he could ask, then turned the page of his book with a deliberate air of casualness. “About two hours ago.”

“Would you like to take a bath, Stiles?” Peter asked and they both looked at him. That had been something his mother had done when she hadn’t been feeling the best. Of course Stiles realized it was probably due to the length of time she went between swims. When she took him to the lake she almost never joined him in the water. Well, not like that, anyway.

“Yeah, do you have any salt I can add to it?”

Peter nodded. “I’ve heard that can help,” he said.

Across the room Derek growled.

“For sore muscles, nephew, I know you took some of Stiles’ pain, so of course you’re aware of how tender he’s feeling right now. Honestly, you really must do a bit of research about such things. Not knowing how to help those who don’t heal as we do is not going to do you any favors.”

Stiles noticed that Peter was deliberately vague about the actual type of person who couldn’t heal werewolf quick he was actually referring to, but Derek didn’t seem to catch that.

“I’ll draw a bath, would you like warm water or cold?” Peter asked, closing the leather book and placing it on the coffee table.

“Cold, please,” Stiles said, levering himself up and swinging his legs over the side of the bed. Someone had cleaned up the water he’d spilled and spewed on the floor there. Either that or he’d been out long enough for it to have evaporated.

Derek waited until Peter had left the room before he stood up and walked slowly over to Stiles. He was barefoot, but had found a shirt at some point, the low swoop of the neck bared his collar bones and throat.

“I know enough to understand a cold bath isn’t good for getting rid of muscle aches,” he said, approaching Stiles like he was hunting something.

Stiles swallowed and shrugged a shoulder. “It works for me. Or it should. I don’t actually know, I’ve never had to do this before.”

“But you waited too long to go swimming with whatever it is you had locked up at the bank and now you’re experiencing random convulsions and muscle aches?” Derek asked skeptically.

“Yeah, pretty much,” Stiles said with a grimace. He couldn’t get over how stupid he’d been, not to have found time to go to the lake, even if it wasn’t during a full moon it would have at least helped.

“My uncle knows what’s going on,” Derek pointed out and yeah, he was definitely rocking some hurt feelings, though Stiles was sure he’d deny it if he bothered to bring it up.

Stiles nodded. “He knew my mom, apparently, who was friends with your mom, I think. I don’t know, she never really talked about you guys.”

Too busy keeping each other’s secrets, maybe?

At the mention of his mother Derek’s expression opened up a little bit and he came to sit next to Stiles, a donut in his hand Stiles hadn’t seen when he’d been walking over.

He ate it in silence, listening to the distant rush of water and Derek’s even breathing and his own chewing. Stiles wondered what Derek could hear that he couldn’t, but decided he probably didn’t want to know. If the werewolf could hear a person’s heartbeat he could probably also hear their digestion and all kinds of other weird stuff.

It was likely the same for smells, too, which was even worse, but Stiles forced himself to concentrate on eating instead of dwelling on that kind of thing.

Probably for the best.

 

-----------------

 

“So, uh, how do we want to do this?” Stiles asked as he hobbled toward the bathroom.

On his own, without assistance, it was a big moment for him.

Also, he kind of felt creaky like an old man, it was pretty terrible and embarrassing.

“You get in the bath and I make sure you don’t drown,” Derek said from right behind him, like he was just waiting for Stiles to take a header. His apparent lack of faith was not appreciated even if the sense of security his presence brought was.

“Pretty sure I’m not gonna drown, dude,” Stiles said, glancing over his shoulder at Derek, whose face was oddly blank.

“You almost drown drinking a glass of water earlier this morning, I’m not willing to take that kind of a chance with you and an entire tub of water, especially not since your father knows you’re here and I’m fairly certain he wouldn’t hesitate to shoot me if I hand you back in less than perfect condition.”

“Uh, huh,” Stiles said and turned just in time to see Peter slip out of the bathroom, a smirk on his face.

“I’ll look into alternative methods of tracking the lost item, shall I?” Peter said, nodding to Derek as he went back into the living room and probably to his book.

Stiles winched when his feet hit the cold tiled floor and yeah, he figured the cold bath was probably going to suck.

Until he caught the scent of salt and suddenly the chill didn’t bother him at all.

He shucked off his clothes almost mindlessly when he saw the water, more eager to get in than he could ever remember having been before. Well, besides his monthly, sometimes weekly, journeys to the lake with his mom, and then with his dad after her death.

Derek made a cut-off noise behind him, but Stiles was already climbing in, shuddering in relief as the cool water slid up his legs and torso.

“Yes,” Stiles groaned out, settling down until he was covered up to his chin. He could feel the grit of the salt between his back and the tub, but enough was in the water that he could feel that, too.

After a few seconds Derek cleared his throat and padded closer. When Stiles opened his eyes he saw that the alpha was standing there looking uncomfortable.

“Dude, you can sit down. Hell, if you’re so concerned about my wellbeing you can even bring a book and chill out while I soak in the awesome that is this bath. I do not plan on this being a short-lived event.”

Derek didn’t seem to know what to say to that, but it ended up he didn’t have to say anything because there was a knock on the door quickly followed by Peter’s entrance.

The growl that came from Derek was a lot louder than any Stiles had heard from him before, but it could have just been the acoustics of the mostly tile room.

Peter backed up almost immediately, but not before winking at Stiles.

Again.

It was weird.

“Oh, did he bring your book?” Stiles asked after Derek snatched something from Peter and took what he thought was the unnecessary precaution of locking the door before sitting down on the closed toilet seat facing Stiles. Only he wasn’t looking at Stiles, he was glaring at his book.

“Whatcha reading?” he tried, instead, when it became clear Derek wasn’t going to answer his previous question. Which, yeah, clearly Peter had brought Derek his book, so it wasn’t exactly necessary.

Derek held up the cover so Stiles could read it. Which turned out to be the newest in a fantasy series he enjoyed as well.

But Derek was being oddly reticent about the whole situation, so Stiles didn’t push it, just relaxed back against the cold tub and let his body drift in the salty water.

And that whole situation might actually be the problem. Stiles had always just assumed Derek was straight, though all he knew about his dating history had to do with Kate and her involvement in the fire that had killed the rest of the Hale family. The same fire that had taken Stiles’ mother from him and he heaved out a sigh because he was tired of feeling worked up all the time. Kate was dead, Peter had seen to that, as were the rest of the people who had been helped in the cover-up.

Thanks to Peter, who had survived only because he’d used Stiles’ mother’s seal skin to protect himself from the flames. Peter, who claimed to have known Claudia Stilinski, and had clearly been privy to her secret and therefore Stiles’.

He wondered what else Peter was hiding from them.

Stiles wasn’t a big fan of people hiding vital information from each other. It was all too often counterproductive.

“That thing of mine, that was in the safety deposit box,” Stiles said and immediately had Derek’s full attention. “Whenever anyone touches it I can feel it on my skin and it’s exceedingly uncomfortable. That’s why I spaz out.”

Again, all true, but not the entirety of the truth.

“And this thing they have is somehow vital to your survival?” Derek asked.

“Extremely vital. If they,” he paused and ran his fingertips across the surface of the water, “If they know what it is, they’ll be able to use it to control me. If they don’t and damage it in any way, then I’ll probably get hurt, too.”

“Probably?”

Stiles looked up at him and nodded. “My mom had hers at your house. She only lived for a week after the fire destroyed it.”

Derek looked like he was going to be sick, but he quickly pulled himself together, eyes focused on the bathmat in front of him.

“So this is a talisman of some sort? What, are you a mermaid or something?”

Stiles shook his head with a rueful smile. “I’m not a mermaid, Derek. I’m pretty sure those don’t exist. But hey, you’re a werewolf, so what do I know?” His mom hadn’t actually mentioned any other mystical beings, but it could have been that she either didn’t know about them, or she’d just run out of time.

Derek rolled his eyes and held out his hand. “Give me your hand, I want to check your pain levels. Peter’s right, your muscle aches were pretty bad, earlier.”

Stiles obliged and only the faintest traces of gray slid up Derek’s arm and then nothing, just his own faintly tanned skin. It struck Stiles, suddenly, that he was lounging naked in a bathtub holding Derek Hale’s hand and yeah, that wasn’t something he’d ever anticipated happening to him ever in his life.

Also, Derek was hella hot.

“So if you’re not a mermaid what are you?” Derek asked, apparently focused on pursuing that particular line of conversation.

Not that Stiles could really blame him.

“I can’t tell you,” he said, and yeah, they were still totally holding hands.

“Peter knows,” Derek said with that same disgruntled tone he tended to use when he mentioned his uncle doing something he was jealous about.

Stiles rolled his eyes. “He knew my mom, they used to go out to lunch together or something. Besides, I’m pretty sure he guessed what she was based on the evidence at hand. Besides, my mom was really clear about me never telling anyone about this ever, and I can’t break that kind of a promise.”

“What if I guess what you are?” Derek asked, eyes drifting down Stiles’ body before snapping back up to his face with a faint flush on his cheeks.

He sighed. “Why do you even think there’s something to guess?”

Derek cocked an eyebrow at him. “You’re taking a cold bath and showing no signs of being chilled. A normal human would be shivering by now and your body temperature hasn’t dropped at all.”

Which, okay, fair point.

“Well, clearly I am a human,” Stiles said, gesturing to himself with his free hand and the pink flared up in Derek’s cheeks again when his eyes followed the naked lines of Stiles’ body.

“Maybe right now, but so am I and we both know I’m really a werewolf.”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Okay, wolfy, you guess correctly and I’ll tell you, but don’t expect any hints.”

Derek nodded, like he was willing to accept those terms.

“There is an object tied to you that can affect your balance and, if touched, be felt directly by you.”

Stiles nodded.

“Whoever has it can use it to control you, if they know how.”

Another nod.

“And if it’s destroyed or damaged, so are you.”

“Pretty much.”

"You crave fish on the full moon, you take cold saltwater baths, you're supposed to swim monthly or you get these muscle cramps-"

Stiles was kind of impressed by how much he’d picked up on.

"-and you were able to hold up a two hundred pound werewolf in eight feet of water for more than two hours."

And yeah, that was pretty much the most damning piece of evidence, out of everything.

"You smell like the ocean, you move like you're not entirely sure how to walk on land-"

Which, okay, ouch. Stiles didn’t think he was that terrible at containing his flailing.

"-and you were never afraid of me."

"I'll call bull on that one, how does that disqualify me from being human?"

Derek smirked, the dangerous kind of smile he used to pull out when he was trying to intimidate someone. The same look that hadn't ever worked on Stiles.

"That right there," Derek said, tapping a finger against Stiles wrist. He'd gotten so comfortable in the bath he'd forgotten they were holding hands. "Most humans, when faced with a predator will have an elevated heart rate and rush of adrenaline. You, on the other hand, either get annoyed or pissed off. That tells me you're some kind of a predator, too."

Yeah, a predator who likes catching his own fish, not tearing out the throats of his mortal enemies.

"Any guesses?" Stiles asked, pretty confident that Derek wasn't going to be able to come up with the right answer.

"A water nymph?"

Stiles frowned up at the ceiling before he turned his head to look at Derek, who was watching him. "What do you think I'd have in the box if that were the case? And shouldn't I be turning you into a stag or something for checking me out during bath time?"

Stiles could feel the heat of Derek's blush where they were still holding hands.

"You're annoying enough to be a nymph," Derek argued, but he probably saw that wasn't the answer.

"A water sprite?"

"Dude, I'm on land like, over ninety percent of the time. Pretty sure I woudn't be able to survive six months without a freshwater swim if I were a water sprite."

Derek's eyebrows furrowed. "Are you a were of some kind? One that relates to water, but doesn't find it necessary for daily survival?"

And that wasn't actually something Stiles had thought about, before. He didn't think that was the case with selkies, but it wasn't as if he had anyone to ask about it. His mother was dead and, as far as he knew, so was her entire family.

Derek cocked his head and frowned, hand twitching against Stiles'. "Peter says no, but that I'm closer to the answer than I was before."

Stiles hummed. "Good to know what I'm not, I guess."

"But you had some doubts just now."

Stiles shrugged, "I didn't exactly go to supernatural creature academy, dude, my mom died when I was ten. She didn't really have time to go over everything in detail. Besides, the Internet is full of shit when it comes to stuff like this."

Derek frowned and yeah, if he'd ever heard of selkies it had probably been as long ago, back before the fire.

"Are you a water dragon?"

"No, but that would be totally badass," Stiles immediately replied.

"You don't think you're badass?" Derek asked, like that was another clue.

Stiles rolled his eyes. "Dude, you might be able to argue that I'm a predator, but very few others would share your opinion."

Derek was apparently out of ideas and he wasn't happy about it, though his thumb was running a gentle line up and down Stiles' hand, so that was nice.

"Peter knows and he's helping you by looking through some of the old books that survived the fire," Derek pointed out.

Stiles nodded.

"I want to help you, too," he grumbled.

And there it was.

Derek felt useless because he hadn't been given an explicit task to perform.

"You are helping me, Derek. You took my pain earlier and kept me from choking to death and held onto me when it felt like I was about to crawl out of my skin. All very helpful tasks."

Not that the alpha seemed to buy it, but he did eventually open his book, one handed, and read while Stiles soaked in peace.

 

-----------------

 

"Is this kind of lethargy normal?" Derek asked as he dragged a towel up and down Stiles' body. He’d given it a shot initially, but the damn thing had kept falling out of his hands and pooling over his feet on the bathmat.

“Nope, this is all new. I think it’s the swimming thing and the fact that strangers keep touching my shit. I’m going to have to clean the hell out of it when I get it back.”

When, not if. Stiles really couldn’t afford to think of his pelt as actually lost to him. That was too terrible to contemplate.

“Hey, don’t drift off on me,” Derek said and Stiles’ eyes snapped open.

“Oh, and I didn’t get enough fish last night, that’s probably a thing, too. I normally eat like, three times as much as normal when I do my monthly feasty thing. Last night I didn’t really get a chance, what with the werewolfing going on and everything else.”

Derek growled softly and Stiles watched as his eyes flashed red for a second.

“Woah, there, no need to alpha-out on me, I was just saying-”

“You should have said something then. I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what you need, Stiles.”

Stiles was already tired of that conversation. “Well, I need to get my pelt back and go swimming for at least a day, maybe two.”

“Your-” Derek stopped talking abruptly and tilted his head to the side. It was a very Lassie-like move, not that Stiles would point that out. Well, not unless he was being intentionally douchey.

“Peter says he might have found something,” Derek grumbled and wrapped a dry towel around Stiles’ waist, half-carrying him out of the bathroom and back over to the bed where he was summarily dumped and then covered by a sheet. Probably to protect his modesty or something. Derek was kind of weird like that.

“Ah, nephew, I see you’re treating our honored guest with all the respect he deserves,” Peter said dryly and Derek bared his teeth in an unfriendly grin.

“Get on with it, Peter,” he replied and sat on the bed beside Stiles’ hip, partially blocking his view of the creeper, but also blocking Peter’s view of him.

He was not subtle.

“It appears there might be a spell that will amplify the object’s scent to more easily lead us to its location. There is a cost, however.”

Because of course there was.

When Derek didn’t say anything, though Stiles was willing to bet he did something impressive with his eyebrows, Peter just rolled his eyes and continued.

“We’ll need some of Stiles’ blood to perform the ritual, and any mark we make on him won’t heal properly until after we’ve found what it is he’s missing.”

“Deal,” Stiles blurted out before Derek could put in his vote.

Of course it wasn’t quite that simple because Derek still objected, but Stiles’ muscles didn’t ache anymore and someone had found a potential solution to his problem and yeah, he didn’t need to be awake for the fallout. At least not until the ritual happened. That, he’d probably need to be involved with.

 

-------------------

 

“No, you’re going to burn it,” Erica hissed.

“I was the one who watched the video, I know what I’m doing,” Jackson protested and then there was the sound of a tussle and something metal clanging against a solid object, followed by some hissing.

“The fuck?” Stiles groaned, feeling just as terrible as when he’d woken up before the bath. Drained and dry and generally ready to be mounted on someone’s mantlepiece, somewhere like a prize catch.

“Good, you’re awake,” Erica said, skipping over to him with Derek’s lone skillet in her hand. “Now tell Jackson it’s not okay to broil broccoli without boiling it, first.

“Derek doesn’t even have a pot,” Stiles said and she rolled her eyes.

“Irrelevant, we went shopping. Now, tell him.”

Stiles was not prepared to have that conversation. “I don’t, Jesus Erica, give me a bit of space, will you? Thank you. I don’t know, look it up online.”

“Ha, told you!” Jackson said, pointing at Erica who bared her suddenly sharp teeth at him before giving chase back into the kitchen with a growl.

Werewolves.

“You’re up, good,” Peter said, striding down the spiral staircase. “I thought you might sleep through the day, but now that you’re awake you can answer some of my questions. The book I’ve been reading has some pretty interesting things to say about,” he trailed off with a significant look and Stiles nodded, thankful that he didn’t just blurt it out where Jackson and Erica could hear.

Though they were suddenly being suspiciously quiet.

“Can I at least get some, oh, I am not even going to ask how I’m suddenly wearing clothes,” Stiles said and something fell in the kitchen, followed by the sounds of a brief struggle.

He had on someone else’s boxer briefs, loose pajama pants and a wide-necked tshirt. One sniff told Stiles exactly who they belonged to. Which made him glance around the room again, but he didn’t see the wolf in question.

“Relax, the alpha is out gathering sustenance for his pack. I’m sure he’ll be back shortly. Scott, Isaac and Boyd finished summer school for the day and are once again trying to track the stolen items, and your father has called twice, but Derek spoke to him both times and reassured him of your condition.

“Derek dressed me, didn’t he?” Stiles guessed. It was highly improbable that he would have let Peter get that close to Stiles when he was unconscious.

Peter, being Peter, rolled his eyes and ignored the question, bringing his book over to the bed and sliding up to sit with his back to the headboard, his side almost, but not quite touching Stiles.

“How about this, I point to a passage and you tell me whether or not you believe it’s true. How about that?”

“How about I just ignore you until you go away?” Stiles asked because he could.

Peter smiled down at him. “Come now, Stiles, that’s hardly a way for you to treat an ally.”

“Back off, Peter,” Lydia’s voice rang out and Stiles could have kissed her. Only.

Huh.

He didn’t actually want to kiss her.

That was kind of a new revelation. Personal growth, maybe?

She came striding through the hole in the wall that led to, Stiles didn’t even know. Another bedroom? Isaac’s when he stayed there? That still didn’t explain why Lydia had been lurking back there.

“Leave Stiles alone, it’s my turn to coddle him. Shoo, go on,” she said, waving her manicured nails in his direction and Peter went.

It was the craziest thing.

Stiles didn’t have time to thank her, though, because the door slid open across the room and the most heavenly smell instantly filled the space.

He was scrambling out of the blankets and onto his feet before Derek managed to even get inside, but Stiles was there a second later, taking the bucket from his hand and staring in wonder at the fish filling it almost to the brim.

“Holy shit did you just catch these, they smell amazing!”

“You mean disgusting,” Jackson yelled from the kitchen and Stiles would have flipped him off, but he was too busy taking one and scampering toward the counter.

“Move, move, need a knife,” he said, hip-checking Erica out of the way so he could riffle through one of the drawers looking for what he needed.

“I uh, don’t have any knives,” Derek said with a hint of uncertainty in his voice and Stiles scoffed.

“Well then get over here and lend me a claw. I want this thing inside of me like ten minutes ago. Come on, hop to it!”

Derek looked like Stiles had completely lost his mind, but he came into the kitchen, anyway, holding out his index finger, which sported a single, dangerously sharp claw.

“Hold still,” Stiles ordered and he skewered the fish onto it, low on it’s belly before drawing it back, Derek’s claw slicing it cleanly all the way up to the base of its head.

Jackson made a gagging noise somewhere behind him and Stiles drew the fish away so he could scoop out the innards. Normally he’d be in his seal form when he encountered fish this fresh, so he’d just eat the whole thing, but since he was human-shaped he didn’t give into his impulses to eat those bits, too.

Next he had Derek scrape his claw along the scales and rinse the fish off under the tap before he made a snip along the throat and twisted the head off, then guided the sharp claw down the creature’s spine so he could peel away the succulent fillet along one side and then the other.

“Perfect,” Stiles said, and proceeded to eat the fresh meat.

Even Erica made a disgusted noise at that and Stiles was pretty sure Jackson threw up in the trashcan, but Lydia just watched him with a calculating look and Derek seemed torn between concern and pride, probably at having provided Stiles with exactly what he needed.

“I’ll need at least two more,” he said, taking the other half of the fish and jumping up onto a bar stool beside Lydia.

“Want a bite?” he offered, but she declined primly.

“As much as I enjoy sashimi I prefer mine with rice,” she said.

Stiles shrugged and chewed on his next bite, watching as Derek did what Stiles had shown him and gutted, scaled, and filleted the rest of the fish. After he finished a couple Erica joined him and before long they had an entire plate of fillets.

“Ready for another?” Derek asked, glancing over his shoulder at Stiles, who made grabby hands at him, mouth still full of fish.

Derek complied without even an eyeroll, which was weird, but Stiles felt kind of weird, like there was a hole inside of him he was trying to fill. Probably a part of him trying to make up for the fact that a sizable chunk of himself was missing.

Yeah, that was sucky.

But Derek had not only brought him fresh fish, but Stiles was pretty sure he’d caught them himself. Maybe even at that lake Stiles liked to swim at and that had always been well stocked with all kinds of fun things to chase and chomp down on when he was frolicking in the water.

“So, who wants to help me perform a magic spell after dinner?” Stiles asked, licking his fingers clean. And that, Lydia apparently had a problem with because she scrunched her nose at him distastefully.

“I’ll help if you stop acting like an animal,” she said, leaning forward to snag a paper towel off the roll for him. Stiles grinned and used it to wipe away the lingering fish juices, even though he had no issue with self-grooming.

“But aren’t we all animals, Lydia?” Stiles asked. When he glanced at Derek the alpha was watching him closely, like he was working out a puzzle.

“You gonna eat some of that or are all of those for me. I mean, I’m flattered, don’t get me wrong, but even at my hungriest I could probably only polish off like, four fish. Maybe five if I’ve been swimming all day, and I’ve definitely not done anything of the kind. I’ve mostly just slept and snarked which I count as a good day, really. Except for the whole total-body-weariness thing I’ve had going on. Hey, any leads, yet?”

Derek rolled his eyes and turned back to the plate. “Do you want me to cook any of these for you or would you prefer them raw?” he asked as Erica prepped three skillets. And yeah, apparently she hadn’t been lying about having gone shopping because two of those hadn’t been there before.

Jackson was off to one side looking vaguely ill and avoiding looking at the fillets on the platter in front of Derek.

“Uh, raw’s good with me. Too much oil upsets my stomach,” Stiles said and took the additional two fish worth of meat. On an actual plate that time, but sans utensils, which was fine with him because he preferred eating that kind of thing by hand, anyway.

Peter strode in while Derek and Erica worked the stovetop and he gave Stiles’ meal a significant look before looking over his nephew’s shoulder.

“Quite a catch,” he commented and Derek stiffened like it had been an insult.

“This is some of the best fish I’ve had in ages,” Stiles commented because it was true and Derek deserved all of the compliments.

Just.

All of them.

“I’m glad you’re enjoying it,” he replied, somewhat stiffly, but that could have been because Peter was still lurking behind him.

“Yo, Petey, you said you had questions for me?” Stiles asked and Derek glanced back at his uncle sharply.

Peter took a step back and rolled his eyes to Stiles. “Clever boys always are the worst,” he muttered clearly enough for Stiles to hear him and he grinned at the insult, which was actually a compliment, too. After all, he was pretty clever.

“Don’t you know it.”

 

----------------

 

Following dinner and some additional arguments, mostly coming from Derek, Stiles finally put his foot down and demanded to see the book with the supposed spell Peter had found.

It was the same familiar leather tome he’d been reading earlier that day and it was unsurprisingly hand-written.

In Latin.

“Lydia, can you come help me with this?” he called from the bed where he’d been relegated after he’d finished eating. The rest of the pack was scattered throughout the space, lounging on the couches and chairs, Scott and Jackson at the table playing some kind of card game that involved slapping each other’s hands with loud, painful-sounding smacks.

Lydia rose from her seat next to Jackson and walked across the room with a put-upon air. "Well, I suppose we know who between us is going to be the valedictorian," she said, perching on the couch beside him.

Stiles snorted. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure we figured that one out in second grade when you told the art teacher she was wrong and then went into detail about refraction."

"She kept saying reflection and it was annoying," Lydia said, brushing a strand of strawberry blond hair over her shoulder. She smelled faintly of flowers, but Stiles much prefered the thicker, more foresty scent of Derek, who was sitting on the couch watching the two of them without seeming to blink.

Stiles would have actually liked for the alpha to join them on the bed, but he didn't seem to want to move. Peter, on the other hand, looked about ready to vault down the remainder of the spiral stairs at a moment's notice. The dual audience of Hales was a bit disconcerting, really.

"This one, I think it is," he said, pointing to the passage Peter had vaguely indicated when Derek had made him hand over the book to Stiles. There had been some growling and eye-flashing, but no actual blows or claws, so Stiles was okay with that.

Lydia glanced down the passage that took up about a quarter of the page, half of the first column, before she shook her head.

"No, that will only work if you're-"

"I am," he interrupted and she turned sharply to look at him.

"Really," she said flatly, then shook her head again and took out her phone, typing K-E-L-P-I-E and it was Stiles’ turn to shake his head.

"Oh, no, not that. Damnit. Peter, your spell's no good. it only works on kelpie and I'm definitely not an enchanted water horse."

Peter gave a shrug. "Well, that was as close as I could come up with. It isn't as if I had much in the way of resources left to dig through."

Which was a dig at Derek, who stiffened even further where he was still sitting on the couch pretending to read.

"Dude, I'm not sure there are any spells that have to do with this. The best we can do is hope my dad catches a break or that one of you somehow sniffs them out. Now who wants to watch a movie?"

Everyone did, apparently. They dragged the bed and couches over to face the wall where the hole was, beside which Derek mounted a flat screen tv, probably because he’d gotten sick of listening to Stiles whine about all the missed opportunities for movie nights.

Predictably, there was a lot of bickering about what to watch, with Peter unhelpfully insisting on The Secret of Roan Inish, which Stiles did not find at all funny, but made Derek's face scrunch up in confusion when Stiles called Peter a douchelord for suggesting it. They ended up watching Willow, instead, and Stiles fell asleep halfway through, listening to the even beating of Derek's heart under his ear.

 

-------------

 

He woke up to Derek's alert face right in front of his, hazel eyes focused and scruff adding a bit of wildness to his already rumpled look.

"You're a selkie," he declared and Stiles groaned and tried to roll over, but his limbs were tangled with Derek's.

"Whassat?" he said, brain stuttering and unable to figure out if he was still dreaming or not because yeah, pretty much Stiles’ entire body was pressed up against Derek’s and if something didn’t change fairly quickly then things would soon get very awkward for the two of them.

"You. Are. A. Selkie." Derek said with deliberately clipped slowness.

Of all the ways to be woken up, early morning accusations weren't his favorite.

"Where is everyone?" he asked. He couldn't see anything but Derek's face, really.

"Out. Answer the question, Stiles."

Stiles groaned and closed his eyes. "You didn't ask a question you accused me of being a mythical seal creature who sheds his skin and walks around like a human. No question involved in that."

"You said that the robbers have your pelt," Derek said quietly and Stiles was pretty stupid because yeah, he probably had said that.

"Shit."

"So is it true? Are you a selkie?"

"I'm not seducing you with my wiles, if that's what you're worried about. I don't know how much of the lore is true, but I'm calling bullshit on that one. Clearly I do not have that kind of game."

Derek gave him a confused look.

“But I think I’d make a pretty good wife, well, you know what I mean. My mom was awesome at that when she was alive. And before you ask, no, my dad didn’t steal her skin and keep her captive. I’m not actually sure how they met, but she didn’t take it out very often, not even when she brought me to the lake and let me swim in my other form. She must have really missed it,” Stiles said feeling a pang of commiseration for his mother.

He really missed it. The feel of the water sliding across his sleek body, the way his flippers so easily propelled him through the clear depths.

Derek frowned. “We’re going to find it,” he said. And yeah, he really needed to work on his reassuring tone, but Stiles still smiled because Derek was trying. Also, he was blushing. “I, um, I woke you up because your scent changed,” he said and glanced away, cheeks still pink.

For a second, Stiles thought he was smelling something embarrassing, like arousal, but he did a systems check and knew that couldn’t have been it because his body was too relaxed for that to be the case. Which was kind of weird since he was basically pressed hip to hip with pretty much the hottest person he’d ever met.

“What’s it smell like?” Stiles asked, “Do I need another bath?”

“What? No. It just, it smells like dust. Like a closed-up space. You said the physical state of your, uh, your pelt could affect you. Do you think it could also convey more than that, like the scent of its surroundings?”

Stiles gave a half-shrug. “I don’t know, I’m not exactly an expert on this. Peter seems to think he knows more about it than I do. But if it is being held somewhere closed up and dusty then I’m not sure that does us much good. It could be a basement or-”

“There’s a sense of space to it. I can’t describe it very well, but the pollen still smells like Beacon Hills and the air is slow-moving and stale.”

Which really didn’t give them that much of a lead, but Stiles smiled encouragingly. “That’s a good start, right? We know they’re still in town, that lessens the complications at least. No chasing the bad guys to Mexico or anything.”

But Derek’s frowny face was back. “We still don’t know where it is, Stiles,” he said because he believed in pointing out the hopelessness of pretty much every scenario.

Then again, his track record for things going to shit was pretty legendary.

“True, but we’re-” Stiles cut off with a shudder because something had brushed up against his flank. Something cold like metal. A firm, foreign touch pressed against the side of his hip and he had a very bad feeling about where that was going.

“Oh, this is going to suck,” he said and then squeezed his eyes tight so he wouldn’t have to see what Derek’s face would do when it happened.

Of course closing his eyes and clenching his jaw didn’t stop Stiles from making a high pitched noise in the back of his throat. He was actually surprised he didn’t scream outright when the pain sliced through his thigh and the stink of blood filled the air as hot wetness slicked his leg.

Derek scrambled to tear back the covers and whatever he saw on the side of Stiles' upper thigh made his roar in fury.

The pain throbbed through him in aching waves along with the awful ghostly touch and if Stiles didn't know any better he'd think he was being summoned, but it was far more likely that the thieves had just taken a sampling of the pelt so they could more easily figure out what it was. Not that it was that big of a mystery since not many animals had such distinct markings.

Warm hands pressed against his cheeks and Stiles whined in relief at the abrupt decrease in pain.

"Stiles, look at me," Derek demanded and Stiles reluctantly complied.

Derek's breathing stuttered for a second as he stare in shock. "Your eyes," he said and yeah, that was probably a bad sign and solved his little internal debate about what was happening.

"Pretty sure they're trying to summon me," he said and groaned as he felt a flare of heat where that cut-off piece of his hide had been, like they were burning it.

He might not have much experience with that kind of a thing, but Stiles was pretty sure that he'd be compelled to get up and go to them if they completed whatever ritual it was.

"Derek, you have to go find it before they finish," he said, panting just from the edge of pain that seeped through. "If you don't I might end up tied to them."

Derek looked like Stiles had just asked him to kill a litter of puppies.

"There's no one else here,” he protested, “I can't just leave you alone, not when you're in this much pain."

He'd really come a long way from being the grumpy asshole Stiles had sassed in his dad's cruiser, but that didn’t change the fact that Stiles was very quickly running out of time. Or at least his free will was running out. He could practically feel the spell working its way over his skin, the smoke soaking into his fur with a gritty insistence.

"Either you go now and try to find out where they're keeping my pelt, or you wait and follow me when I can't help but go to them, at which point it might be too late for me to resist joining or serving them or whatever it is they're doing to me."

"But you're bleeding," Derek pointed out and Stiles hadn’t even realized Derek had moved one of his hands down to cover the hurt.

Not that it would do a lot of good.

"I'm pretty sure it's like Peter said. I won't heal until I get my skin back. I'll just keep bleeding until then and I don't have werewolf powers to keep me from dying of blood loss."

"I could give you the bite," Derek said in what was clearly a last-ditch offer.

Stiles found himself smiling despite the dire situation. "No, you're not gonna bite me, Derek. I just need my pelt and a few days in the water and then I'll be fine."

Derek and his eyebrows did not like that. "I'm calling Peter, he can go look-"

"No, I want it to be you. Whoever holds my pelt has power over me, remember. I don't want Peter to be able to control me like that." Only partially because Stiles still wasn’t sure what Peter’s relationship with his mom was like.

"But you'd let me?" Derek asked with a measure of discomfort.

Stiles nodded. He really didn't want to get into the specifics of just how much control he'd be willing to give up to the alpha. One crisis at a time and all that.

"Why'd everyone leave?" he asked, feeling a faint static buzzing in his ears, but Derek had a phone pressed to his ear and was speaking too quietly for Stiles to hear, even though they were practically chest to chest.

Between one blink and the next the phone was gone and Derek was frowning so hard it reminded Stiles of childhood warnings of faces sticking that way.

"Scott's coming, he said he thought he smelled your scent nearby. When he gets here I'll go look."

"Prob'ly gonna ruin your sheets with my blood if you don't put me on a tarp or something," Stiles replied, eyelids suddenly too heavy to keep open.

"I don't care about the sheets, Stiles," Derek growled and that wasn't fair.

They were super comfortable and, silk? Stiles thought they might be silk. Sexy dark silk.

“I’m glad you approve,” Derek said and Stiles opened his eyes enough to see the tight smile on the alpha’s face.

Apparently he’d said that stuff about the sheets out loud.

“Take backup, don’ want you getting f’cked up w’out me.”

Derek’s hand pressed tighter against the wound, but there wasn’t the expected flare of pain. “That barely even makes any sense,” he pointed out.

“Y’r face doesn’t make sense,” Stiles retorted.

Whatever it was he replied to that mature observation was lost in the clang of the door and Scott’s overloud voice taking too quickly and then the pain jolted through his thigh for a second before something was pressing down again, directly on the wound and Stiles was floating in the non-pain sensation of werewolf magic mojo.

“S’up,” Stiles said when Scott’s frantic-looking face swam into view.

“Dude, Stiles, what the hell happened? Derek didn’t really say much, just that I needed to get here immediately, but I’d just caught your scent when it happened and now you’re bleeding and why am I not taking you to a hospital right now?”

“Magic, dude, not gon’ heal till I get my pelt back,” he said and Scott frowned in obvious confusion.

“Pelt? What the hell, dude?”

“He’s a selkie, Scott, try to keep up,” Lydia said from wherever it was she’d suddenly appeared from. Stiles was too drained to try figuring it out, or how she even knew what he was in the first place.

“Selk- dude, you’re an enchanted seal person?” Scott asked and Stiles was impressed that he even knew what a selkie was. After all, he’d fought against the whole werewolf diagnosis for a lot longer than was logical, so it followed that he wasn’t all that well versed on supernatural creatures in general, but it could have just been werewolves that he didn’t think were real?

Stiles was having a hard time making sense of things.

Until he felt his legs start to twitch and then he was abruptly sitting upright, Scott and Lydia jumping back to make room, but didn't go too far because Scott was still pressing one hand to the bleeding wound on Stiles’ thigh while the other had a firm grip on his upper arm, dark gray lines crawled under his skin as he werewolfed the pain away.

“Gotta,” Stiles grunted, “gotta go,” he said and somehow lurched to his feet even though he wasn’t sure how that was even possible for him because it felt like there wasn’t any energy left in his body.

“Call Peter,” Scott said, “he’s supposed to be helping Derek with the tracking and he seems to know more about this than anyone.”

Lydia must have done as he asked because Stiles was at the door when she pressed the cold plastic of her phone to his ear.

“Stiles, would you care to tell me what it is you’re feeling?” his silky voice asked, calm as creek water.

He didn’t know how he managed to get the door open with Scott hanging onto one of his arms and Lydia latched onto his other, but Stiles was in the hallway before he answered.

“Compelled,” he gritted out. It was like he was being dragged closer to himself, like his body was helpless against the insistent pull of his pelt.

It was a spell, of course, whatever magic the thieves had used, a companion of the spell Peter had wanted to perform. It was blood magic, which Stiles knew from his extensive online research was like a gateway drug that led to worse and worse spells, corrupting the caster and any who helped them.

Like Stiles would be forced to, if he reached them before Derek liberated his pelt from their fiendish clutches. But if they knew about selkies and magic then they probably knew about werewolves as well.

“Hunters,” Stiles said, interrupting whatever Peter had been rambling on about. He couldn’t even recall any of what the wolf had said, other than his sickeningly sweet tone and probably false reassurances.

Stiles was in the stairwell, Lydia and Scott still hanging on, when Boyd stepped in front of him with a calm, no-nonsense air.

“You should go back upstairs, Stiles, you’re bleeding all over the place,” he said, but there was some fear in his eyes Stiles hadn’t seen there since Gerard had beaten Stiles bloody and forced him and Erica to watch.

“Can’t,” he said and somehow his shuffling zombie-walk was powerful enough to push Boyd back as Stiles slowly moved forward, his face pressed against the much larger werewolf’s chest.

“S’ry,” Stiles mumbled against the warm fabric of Boyd’s shirt before it disappeared and then another hand was touching him, on his neck that time.

“Yeah, help me take his pain,” Scott said from somewhere beside him. At some point Lydia had removed the phone from his ear and was hissing into it. Or at least it sounded like she was hissing, Stiles couldn’t be sure because he kept hearing another voice, a gratingly familiar one he couldn’t quite identify and the awful, shiver-inducing caress was back, but he had to keep walking.

“We’re trying, but we can’t stop him,” Lydia snapped, breaking through the weird auditory fog.

When Stiles emerged into the sunlight outside Derek's building it was blindingly bright, but even though his eyes were still struggling to adjust, his body just kept going, making him walk into the thankfully empty street, then onto sidewalks and down alleys littered with debris. He probably would have stepped on any number of broken bottles if Scott hadn’t kicked the shards out of his way. Still, Stiles didn’t want to think about the state of his feet or of the bleeding wound on his thigh or how his pelt was being held captive by assholes.

Come on, boy, a voice whispered and Stiles winced in recognition.

“‘S Gerard,” he said, and behind him Boyd growled.

There were a lot of words spoken after that, by Lydia and Scott and suddenly Erica, but Stiles could only hear the sickening cadence of Gerard’s voice in his head, beckoning him closer, telling him how they were going to get along so nicely once the wolves were put down. That Stiles' luck was just what he needed to fulfill his goal of wiping out the werewolf population once and for all.

But then the voice cut off abruptly and like his strings had been cut, Stiles stumbled a step and fell to his knees on the rough pavement.

His cheeks were wet and after a moment of terrible static he could hear again, Scott’s frantic questions and Lydia’s demands, Erica and Boyd’s arguments. It was all just noise for a few seconds until he started being able to make sense of it.

“Everyone shut up, clearly something’s happening. I think I can hear someone howling,” Lydia said as she held the phone over Stiles’ head.

“I can hear that without the phone,” Erica replied, pointing in the direction they’d been walking.

“Come on, I’ll carry Stiles,” Boyd said, and then he was being scooped up into the wolf's ridiculously muscular arms. They weren’t quite as impressive as Derek’s, but they weren’t far from it, either.

Scott pouted, once again at eye level with him. “We should take him back to the loft, we don’t know what we’re going to be walking into,” he argued and if Stiles had had any energy at all left he would have told him that was a stupid idea.

Luckily, Lydia read his mind and outlined why that wasn’t going to work. Pretty much starting ending with the fact that Stiles needed to be reunited with his pelt as quickly as possible or risk actually dying from blood loss.

Which was one hundred percent accurate and terrifying.

It also had the added benefit of making Scott relent and lead the way further down the smelly alley they were standing in and Stiles really didn’t want to know what he had knelt in when he’d crashed to his knees.

The light changed at some point and Stiles blinked back into awareness in a shadowed space he thought he should recognize. In the distance he heard the sounds of wolves growling and the zing of projectiles, but it was too much like a movie to possibly be real.

Then again he was a selkie who had been incapacitated by a magical spell geared toward compelling him to reunite with his seal skin, so fantastical scenarios weren’t necessarily that far outside the realm of possibility.

The pain returned in a staggering rush, or he imagined he would have staggered had he been standing, but he wasn’t. Stiles was on the ground with his head in Lydia’s lap, her expression tense, but he thought there might have been tears in her eyes.

The distant sound of fighting grew louder until it seemed to reach a terrifying crescendo before tapering off.

As far as musical numbers went, it was a bit anticlimactic.

Until Stiles felt warm hands cupping his face and the scent of Derek and blood flooded his senses. He opened his eyes and the alpha was crouched there over him, Stiles’ spotted pelt slung over his shoulders like he was a clan chief returning from battle. He looked barbaric and amazing with blood and dust streaked across his skin and the tattered remains of his shirt.

“Stiles, I have it, you’re going to be okay,” he said and reached up, probably to drag the pelt down and swaddle Stiles in it but he shook his head, surprised he could move that much.

“In the water,” he said, “I need to be in the water.”

Derek frowned, but didn’t hesitate to lift him up. Stiles’ face pressed against the soft fur of his hide and he sighed at the familiar texture under his cheek.

“Clean this up,” Derek ordered someone, or maybe more than one of his betas. “Isaac, you’re driving us to the lake. Scott, call Stiles’ father and let him know what’s going on and what to expect here. I want everyone to clear out before the police arrive.”

Curled up in Derek’s arms, the pain being mojo-ed away or just gone or whatever, and the sensation of wholeness made Stiles more tired than he could remember having been since the pool incident. Tired and content and probably still bleeding out, but whatever, Derek was there to take care of him.

 

-----------------

 

The water felt amazing against his bare skin and Stiles sighed in contentment, even though he knew something wasn’t quite right with the situation.

“Stiles, I don’t know what to do,” Derek said and he realized he was floating there with Derek’s arms supporting his head and shoulders, the unnatural heat of the werewolf’s chest against his upper back.

He then remembered the reason for their little field trip and his fingers twitched in the water.

“Give it here and then back up a bit so I can change,” he said, listening as something splashed to the water beside him and then his pelt was being draped over his body and he grinned, eyes still shut against the brightness of the sunlight.

As soon as Derek let him go, reluctantly, he was sure, Stiles sank beneath the water and between one heartbeat and the next he was whole again and completely thrilled.

He twisted around and immediately saw the wet fabric of Derek’s pants, partially tattered and probably bloodstained, but it was hard to tell underwater. Stiles followed the line of Derek's body up until his head broke the surface and then he was face to face with the alpha, who just stared at him with an openly startled expression.

Stiles wasn’t able to say anything in that form, not that Derek could understand, anyway, so he just booped his nose against the alpha’s in thanks and dove back under the water.

Swimming again after so long in his human form was so amazing he didn’t bother going back near the beach until he heard his dad calling for him sometime around dusk.

He swam up toward the shallows, rolling his body for the fun of it and to feel the change in temperature all along his totally intact hide. He’d been a bit worried about that, since Gerard or whoever thought it would be a good idea to clip a piece of his fur off, but Peter’s theory had been right and he was perfectly fine. Well, he was traumatized, but was otherwise physically undamaged.

The sheriff sat on the pebbled shoreline, the toes of his booths inches away from the water.

“Good to see you’re okay, kid,” he said and Stiles slid up until his belly was resting on the rocks, body half out of the water.

He barked in response, one of the louder noises he could make and his dad smiled despite the tears in his eyes.

“Derek told me you’re planning to stay in there for a day or two. I’m having one of them stay with you round the clock while I wrap up the mess at the old mall. Do you need anything?”

Stiles shook his head. He hadn’t really understood that's where he’d been headed to at the time, but it made sense that someone would take over the abandoned mall. There were too many abandoned buildings in the old heart of Beacon Hills, all built back during the booming years of consumerism. Things had wound down pretty quickly after the quick succession of bursting financial bubbles and whole city blocks had gone to ruin over the course of Stiles’ life. The good thing was, it gave his dad a new platform to run with when he came up for reelection, the sheriff who cleaned up the abandoned sectors of the city while everyone else sat on their hands. That made for a good headline.

“Okay, take care, Stiles, and don’t give anyone a hard time, you know I’ll hear about it if you do.”

He rolled his head since it was really hard to roll his eyes in that form and even if he managed to do it Stiles didn’t think his dad would be able to see it in the growing dark.

"Alright, remember to behave," his dad said as he stood up and brushed his hands against the back of his pants. "I love you, son."

Stiles raised his tail and slapped it against the water as he watched his dad wave a hand over his shoulder, then walked back along the hidden path Stiles and his mom had always used to get to the lake.

Derek emerged from there a few minutes later, wearing fresh, blood-free clothes and a strangely blank expression. Stiles paused his grooming to wave a flipper, then went back to what he'd been doing, working on the spot along his flank where Gerard or one of his minions had cut off the piece of his pelt. There wasn’t even a mark, but their scent was still there and it irritated him.

“Does it hurt?” Derek asked as he sat down near where Stiles’ dad had been, but instead of just resting there he untied his boots and slipped them and his socks off so he could slip his feet into the water.

Stiles shook his head and scooted a little closer on the smooth rocks so he could more easily sniff the alpha. He’d found early on that while in that form he had a far more advanced sense of smell than when he was human. It probably wasn’t as advanced as a werewolf’s nose, but Stiles had learned how to parse out different emotions through some fun games his mother had devised along with a fair amount of trial and error.

Despite his relatively calm demeanor, Derek’s emotions were nowhere near as settled. There was a thick underlying current of worry and fear, nearly overwhelming the rest of what he felt, but Stiles was pretty sure he detected something else that seemed oddly familiar, but he couldn’t quite pin it down.

Derek continued to watch him, his eyes tracing up and down the smooth lines of Stiles’ seal form. “You can understand me when you’re like this?”

Stiles nodded and scooted a bit closer so he could better see Derek in the growing darkness. The moon was still fat in the sky, but hadn’t quite cleared the horizon enough to give adequate light.

“You seem to be feeling better,” Derek pointed out, flicking one broad hand to indicate the non-mark of where his hide had been cut.

Stiles coughed out an approximation of a laugh and rolled onto his side so he could keep grooming himself. They were so close he could feel Derek’s body heat and smell his natural scent overlaid with the emotional cocktail he was rocking.

When he was younger his mom had groomed him a couple of times when both of them were in her seal form, especially after she’d first taught him how to hunt fish in the lake, but otherwise she'd just been human and had used a washcloth and water, sometimes at the lake and other times in the large bathtub in his parent's bathroom.

After her death Stiles had, of course, taken over the task of cleaning himself since his dad wasn't a selkie and really didn't understand the pure contentment that came from having someone else groom him.

Which.

Huh.

Stiles wiggled a bit closer to Derek and nudged the werewolf's arm with his nose. He figured that if anyone got it, a dude with wolfy tendencies would.

"What?" Derek asked, trying to move his arm out of the way, but Stiles followed it with his nose until he couldn't anymore.

Derek looked utterly baffled.

Stiles sighed and turned to Derek's nearest foot, attempting to lead by example as he started to clean the skin there, lathing it with his tongue.

Derek yelped out a laugh and sprang away.

Which wasn't at all the reaction Stiles had been expecting.

They stared at each other for a few seconds before Stiles realized that probably meant the alpha was crazy ticklish and barked out a laugh because that was knowledge he was definitely going to use to his advantage.

Derek scowled.

And that made Stiles kind of feel bad, so he decided to go with a different approach and once again scooted his rounded body closer to the werewolf and waited until Derek was looking in his eyes before be slowly started smoothing his flank with his tongue and then looked pointed back at him.

"You," Derek started before he cut himself off to clear his throat. "You want me to help groom you?" he asked with a quiet voice and Stiles did his best to grin as he nodded, head bobbing like a circus seal. He'd always wondered of any selkies ended up as performers like that, but hadn't ever had anyone to ask about it. He suddenly wondered if there were famous werewolves, like in organized sports, but his chain of thought cut off abruptly when Derek's hand smoothed down from the base of his head down his spine almost to the base of his tail.

And yeah, that felt even better than he remembered.

Stiles let out a deeply contented noise and Derek's hand paused, like he wasn't sure of his continued touch was acceptable, so Stiles wiggled closer until his head was on Derek's lap and his warm hand resumed its petting. Whenever Derek's arm passed close enough to his mouth Stiles have him an encouraging lick. He deliberately didn't think about the scent-marking aspect of that particular gesture.

"You know I'm not actually a wo-" Derek cut himself off abruptly and made a quiet noise of realization and his scent changed to include what Stiles had come to recognize as something  like wonder.

"I'm just going to, I want to try something," he continued, gently lifting Stiles by where his shoulders would have been had he still been human and set him gently on the pebbled shore.

Derek stripped off his slightly damp clothes, not seeming to care that they fell in a haphazard pile on the damp ground, and Stiles thought maybe he was going to join him for a swim, but them Derek was shifting, shrinking until a dark shape stood crouched in his stead.

Stiles made a quiet noise of question, still unable to see all that well in the darkness when suddenly there was a wet nose pressed against his and red eyes glowing in front of him.

He barked in surprise and the sensation vanished, but then Stiles breathed in and realized it was Derek and that he'd turned into an actual wolf and he wiggled in excitement, glancing around to try and figure out where he'd gone, but everything was shadowed and the dark wolf blended in too well with their surroundings for Stiles to pinpoint his location.

Annoyed with himself for freaking Derek out, he tried to figure out the best way to get him to come back and was having a hard time thinking of anything short of shifting into his human form and actually begging.

Unless.

Stiles rolled into his stomach and pulled himself forward with one deliberate movement. Already, the pebbles were harder to move across because of how dry try were, but he did it again and then again, moving closer and closer to the tree line before he heard a wolfish noise of concern coming from the shadows off to his side.

He did it once more, the friction uncomfortable on his furred belly, and then Derek was there, nosing his cheek in a clear attempt to get him to turn back toward the relative security of the lake.

Thrilled, Stiles nosed back, their whiskers ticking together and he gave Derek’s muzzle a firm lick that made the wolf sneeze and yeah, that was totally awesome.

He allowed himself to be herded back toward the shore, Derek trotting at his side, the fur of his dark coat warm against Stiles’ shorter-haired pelt.

When they were close enough, the pebbles damp and cool underneath his belly, Derek finally stopped and Stiles stretched out beside him, rolling sideways a bit to get a better look at him in his wolf form. He supposed it made a certain amount of sense that Derek could shift completely like that, like how his sister had looked when Stiles and Scott had dug her up like the little assholes they’d been earlier that year. And apparently a series of traumatic events were just the ticket to cure him of that particular brand of doucheyness.

Stiles realized he hadn’t ever apologized for that, for desecrating Derek’s sister’s grave, and since he still couldn’t, not like that, anyway, he settled on licking at the delicate tendons of the wolf’s lower legs, enjoying the strange texture of the wolf's fur against his tongue, so unlike his own pelt, but nonetheless delightful to touch.

Derek sniffed along his side before getting to work licking the spot where Gerard had clipped off a part of his pelt, the slide of his tongue sending a delighted shiver up his spine and Stiles curled his rear flippers together. It wasn’t sexual, as far as Stiles knew he wasn’t capable of arousal in that form, but it still felt all kinds of amazing.

They worked on each other until the moon was overhead, and Stiles was able to make out the easy expression of contentment on Derek’s canid face, his eyes lidded and breathing slow. His scent reflected a similar story, ripe with the same emotion Stiles had caught a trace of earlier, but hadn’t been able to pinpoint.

Until he suddenly remembered.

It was the same smell his parents had always exuded when they’d gone swimming together with Stiles when he was a kid. It was the scent of deep affection.

He hesitated to call it love, if only because he knew he couldn’t bear to get his hopes up, only to have them summarily crushed, so he just settled on the fact that Derek actually, legitimately seemed to like him. No trust issues, no violent outbursts or manipulations. Derek like him and he liked Derek.

As far as revelations went, that was probably one of Stiles’ favorites to date.

Also, Derek was really good with his tongue.

 

-----------------------

 

The scent of Gerard and the abandoned mall was completely gone from both of them by the time dawn came around. Derek was lounging on the pebbled shore while Stiles splashed around the shallows, trying out all the tricks he’d seen performing seals do on tv. Despite his intelligence, since he was actually a person, too, some were a lot harder to do than others and he chalked that up to him having a different body type than the California sea lion that normally performed in public. Which yeah, made sense since he was a spotted seal, so whatever, it was still fun for him to try.

Plus, Derek had made all kinds of different wolf noises at him during the course of his experiments, so that was never not hilarious. Stiles was pretty sure one of them was actually a kind of wolfy laugh, though it could have just as easily been a scoff. Whatever, he knew Derek was still more amused than annoyed at his antics.

Stiles waited for the light to get a little brighter before he dove back into the water to catch breakfast. It took him a little while to remember the mechanics of it, but eventually he snagged a fish in his teeth and rocketed back up to the surface and held it up for Derek to see. The wolf cocked his head to the side where he was sitting, looking for all the world like some kind of hellhound guard or superwolf, but his expression turned baffled when Stiles flung his catch onto the pebbles at Derek’s feet.

He didn’t wait to see what the wolf did, just dove back under and caught another, which he gave the same treatment, tossing it up to land near the first dead fish, and then again and again until there was a sizable pile in front of Derek, who had apparently caught on at some point because when one of them gave a half-hearted flop he slapped his paw onto it until it stopped struggling.

After all, there was no use letting their breakfast escape.

When he was satisfied with his haul, Stiles came to shore as well and wiggled his way up to Derek’s side, skirting the fish as best he could, but he really wasn’t all that graceful on dry land, just like Derek had pointed out earlier when he’d been trying to figure out Stiles’ secret.

Fish probably wasn’t one of Derek’s go-to feasts when he wolfed out, but it was the only thing Stiles could provide and besides, it was his turn to cook, or at least gather their food, since yeah, no stove and he actually preferred his fish raw, anyway.

Derek didn’t seem to mind it, either, happy chomping on his share of it after Stiles helpfully demonstrated the best way to chow down, which was to just go for it. The wolf ate a bit more delicately than he did, even though he definitely outweighed Stiles and towered a bit over him. Derek didn’t scarf down the whole thing like Stiles. Instead, he nibbled off the sides of the fish like he was just going for the fillets he’d cut up for dinner before everything had become terrible and complicated. Stiles wasn’t even sure what day that had been, but everything had calmed down substantially in the meantime, so they ate in peace and let the sun warm their fur as they sat together on the shore.

And as he sat there he couldn’t help but feel utterly sated, belly full and completely content.

The company was pretty good, too, if a bit quiet.

Stiles closed his eyes and gently pushed his animal self to the surface, pressing until he could feel his pelt slide from his shoulders to pool around his naked legs.

When he looked again the world had a slightly different look to it, the colors were more defined, the sky brighter and Derek was watching him.

Derek was always watching him, he’d come to realize.

“No worries, big guy, I just wanted to experience this in both my forms. It’s a gorgeous morning.

“It is,” Derek agreed, suddenly human as well, and just as naked as Stiles, though without the added modesty of a pelt to cover him. Not that he seemed concerned about his state of undress.

“Will you keep this for me and take me swimming occasionally?” Stiles asked, gathering up his spotted skin and offering it to him. Out of everyone he knew, Derek was who he trusted with his most prized possession.

That realization probably should have surprised him more than it did, but then again the alpha had more than proven himself worthy of Stiles’ trust, ever since the first time he’d put his life in Stiles’ hands, back when he’d had a poisoned bullet in his arm and no one else to turn to. That was actually probably not the best start to a relationship. Well, that and Stiles having dug up Derek’s dead sister, but they’d evolved from there, slowly and at times painfully, but they’d come a long way.

So it wasn’t a surprise when Derek nodded and slowly, reverently, took the soft pelt from his hands, the sensation of Derek’s gentle touch shivering up Stiles’ spine.

“I’ll be sure to take you more than twice a year,” he said wryly, draping it over his shoulders like he had in the abandoned mall and Stiles smiled widely.

“It’s a date,” he said cheekily, and it was totally worth Derek pushing him over with a laugh.