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Fine Woodworking

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When the loft becomes more of a glorified rec room than a quiet sanctuary from teenagers, Derek doesn't complain. He comes short of telling them how much he appreciates the companionship, though. Until someone steps up and starts cleaning the bathroom, he doesn't want the pack -- Scott's pack -- getting too comfortable.

Scott, who is genuinely the most responsible teenager Derek has ever met, always texts before he comes over. He apologized at first, primarily for the way his pack took over like a bunch of talkative, well-dressed weeds. Derek muttered that it was fine, and Scott let it drop. Maybe he noticed the way Derek's gaze automatically shifted to Stiles when the subject came up.

Stiles doesn't text before he comes over. He just shows up at the door -- and doesn't knock. Derek has grown accustomed to listening for the eccentric rhythm of Stiles' heartbeat as he works himself up and down from panic attacks. Derek always lets him in. It feels like opening the door for a restless cat.

Today Stiles is in Derek's bed playing Angry Birds, his sneakers and socks in a messy pile on the floor and the covers wrapped around him like a grey cocoon. Derek has never invited Stiles into his bed and he's certainly never shared his bed with Stiles, so it shouldn't twist his insides up in a half-good way to see Stiles there.

"I have a couch you know," Derek says.

Stiles looks up, and then around, neck craning awkwardly. He frowns. Derek realizes, with an ugly jolt in his gut, that Stiles doesn't know where he is.

"It's fine though," Derek adds hurriedly. "As long as you keep your shoes off like that."

Stiles' fingers no longer skim his phone's screen, but the colorful game still casts an eerie light over his features. He doesn't look at Derek. "It's supposed to be normal," he says, setting his phone down. "I mean, it's normal-crazy. Not supernatural-crazy. The totally normal kind of losing time. Probably. Right?"

"Laura," Derek starts hesitantly. "My sister."

"Yeah I met her. I mean, I didn't meet her. She was, yeah. I know who your sister is."

"She used to call me a space cadet. We'd be driving and I guess I'd zone out. I don't remember what it felt like, but we'd listen to a whole CD before I realized the time had gone by."

"A whole CD, huh," Stiles says, mouth squirming with an almost-smile. His eyes widen slightly when Derek sits on the edge of the bed, but he doesn't shy away. They're almost touching. Derek can feel the heat of Stiles' body through the thick covers wrapped around him.

"What did you do to feel better?" Stiles asks.

"I was really mean." Derek has never talked about this before. He takes a slow breath and listens to make sure that none of the other wolves are around and eavesdropping. "Sometimes I thought I wanted to go out and…"

"Fuck somebody?"

"What? No. Fight. Jesus, Stiles. Fight somebody. But we were already running and it would have gotten us in more trouble. Mostly I watched a lot of bad TV in hotels and worked a lot."

"You had a job?"

"I was a bouncer at a nightclub in the Meatpacking District for a while. Laura waited tables and tried to get me a job over there, but it didn't work out."

"You are totally making this shit up."

"No, I'm totally not," Derek says, annoyed. It's nice to be annoyed with Stiles. He hasn't been annoyed with him in a long time.

"I don't think I could have a job right now. I can't even get through half a day of school. Even--." Stiles sighs sharply. The grin is gone. His gaze is dark. "Even homework is hard. Easy homework."

"It's not the same. Nobody expects --"

"I don't care what anyone expects, Derek. I just want to pass my junior year of high school. It's just, you know, a small thing I'd kind of like to accomplish. I thought I was going to go to college. And then maybe into law enforcement, do something like my dad does. So if I can't even pass calculus, or I don't know, sleep with the lights off, I'm pretty much screwed."

"Okay," Derek says.

Stiles scowls at him.

Derek shrugs. "I'm not giving you a fight. It sounds reasonable to me. You should pass your junior year of high school."

"When did you get so zen? It's really weird."

Derek makes his voice go especially calm. "Is it?"

Stiles exhales a laugh that somehow becomes tears at the same time, and he scrubs at his eyes with both hands and squirms back into the covers until they're obscuring most of his face. He snuffles around, making noises that aren't happy or unhappy but aren't overly distressed either, so Derek just waits. He'd rub Stiles' back if he thought he could touch him without frightening him.

"You know what sucks?" Stiles asks, muffled.

A lot of things come to mind. A few years ago, Derek might have been compelled to answer something about having your entire family burned to death by the first girl you ever kissed. It's a testament to how bad the previous fall was that all Derek can think of is Stiles, dead-eyed and used. Yes, he knows what sucks. He knows in painful detail that being possessed by a demon sucks. It sucks the joy out of you. It makes you tired all the time. It makes you question reality. It gives you horrific nightmares that cause you to make wet, terrible, kicked-dog noises in your sleep.

It doesn't take your spark though. Stiles can't see it -- can't feel it -- but Derek knows the spark is there. It's there.

"Um," Derek says.

"Not being able to jerk off." Stiles sighs loudly and emerges from his blanket enough to give Derek a pitiful look. "It was kind of my thing, you know?"

"I did not know that."

"Yeah for stress relief. Or boredom. Or really just whenever. And now I can't even…" Stiles makes a floppy gesture.

"Get it up?"

"Exactly. Whoa. Do you...?"

"No, I can get it up, Stiles."

"Oh." Stiles' gaze lands briefly on Derek's crotch, and then bounces away, and as uncomfortable as that was, Derek isn't pleased with how quickly the subject changes, or the way Stiles' voice wavers. "You know what else is like, I can't? Food. It's like… I can't remember what it's like to be hungry."

"You don't look like it." Derek can't suppress the sharpness in his voice. He doesn't like the way Stiles has grown thin. Sick-looking.

"You know what I mean. Food just sounds gross. All the time." He's crying again, without breaking stride, and his long fingers brush away tear after tear like he's flicking flies away from his face. "Dad made stuff I liked for a while, but I told him he had to stop because then he'd eat it all when I didn't and I think I've done enough damage to his heart for one lifetime, you know?"

"You didn't do anything," Derek says for what feels like the thousandth time. He'll say it a thousand more times. And a thousand times after that, if that's what it takes to scour away the self-loathing Stiles wears like a shroud.

"You don't get to tell me that," Stiles says, angry and low.

"I just did."

"Did it help you? When people said you didn't do anything? Because I'm pretty sure you did, blue eyes."

"No," Derek says, fingertips itching. "It didn't help."

Stiles deflates. "Sorry." A hitched, wet breath. "You didn't really. That was all bullshit, what happened to you."

Derek thinks it was bullshit what happened to everyone else -- to the trail of bodies he left in his wake, but he nods. "I know. Did you tell your dad you're here?"

"Yeah, are you kidding? I took that long nap the other day and missed a bunch of texts and Dad threatened to put a GPS bracelet on me."

"He's not going to do anything you don't want him to do, you know."

"He will if he's worried, if he thinks..."

Derek's developed the equivalent of a warning alarm in the form of a twitchy headache every time Stiles tries to drag him into a cyclical argument. It flares up and he rubs a spot just above one eyebrow. "Stiles. Even if your dad had you admitted -- for your own good -- they would literally throw you out in a few days. No one is that patient."

"You are. Why are you?"

"Werewolf."

"Werewolves are impulsive and instinctive. And kind of jerks, frankly. Patience isn't the first thing that comes to mind."

Derek tries to glare.

Stiles frowns. "Are you worried I'll hurt somebody else?"

"No, idiot."

"I'm tired of talking," Stiles says abruptly. It's the kind of manipulative shit he's been pulling for a few weeks, coasting on the eggshells people walk on around him. Derek knows it's horseshit because Stiles never actually asks for what he needs. The pack has figured things out one misstep after another. They've learned to leave the lights on. They've learned to stop touching him. They've stopped offering him food. They send a tail after him if he's gone for more than twenty minutes. They've learned to stop staring at him when he laughs or makes a joke. They've learned to stop expecting it to happen again anytime soon.

"All right, then. Rest," Derek says. "Scott's coming over in a few hours."

"Hey Derek?"

"Mm?"

"Do you have like, a book or something?"

"Do you want to read?"

"No. I mean, I didn't know if you were going to stay up here. I don't know. Read or like, get your laptop and watch TV? I just wondered what you were doing."

"I was going to work on my taxes, actually."

"Oh my God, you do taxes."

"I could make Isaac do it tomorrow. I'd rather read the copy of Fine Woodworking that came today."

"There's... definitely a joke in there somewhere."

Derek grabs the magazine from his nightstand, kicks off his shoes, and nudges his way back against the headboard slowly, giving Stiles plenty of time to inch away like a slug.

"Your breathing's picking up," Derek says calmly, unable to make out the headlines on the cover of the magazine. Every few days he thinks maybe they'll get somewhere, that Stiles will let them closer.

Disappointment tastes metallic.

Personal space is a difficult concept for wolves. They need to sniff and touch and smother until bad things go away. Even Laura used to climb into his bed at night, shaking because it hurt so much to be amputated from their pack. They'd hold each other, too stubborn to cry and too scared to let go.

"I know. I'm just trying to... " Stiles huffs. Derek thinks he's going to flop out of bed and bolt downstairs, but the awkward movements bring him closer.

Derek goes still. "Careful," he starts to say, remembering the way Stiles reacted last time Scott clasped his shoulder without thinking. If he'd had the strength of a werewolf in his bones, Stiles would have killed him before he came halfway to his senses.

"Shut up," Stiles says. "I'm -- don't touch me, I'm just. Don't touch me." He squirms once, and again, and after the third time, his bony spine is flush against Derek's thigh and hip. He's trembling so hard it makes Derek's teeth hurt.

"Try looking at me," Derek offers.

"One sec."

It's actually a few minutes. Derek gets halfway through a letter to the editor before Stiles even starts to roll onto his back. He's picking at his fingernails under the covers and gasping unevenly.

Derek doesn't tell him to breathe. He lets Stiles work through it. It's another ten full minutes before Stiles starts to calm down to his normal state of coiled tension.

"I used to have a crush on you," Stiles says quietly. When he talks about the past, he sounds like he's giving his own eulogy. Derek can't see his eyes. Only the smudge of his lashes. It looks like Stiles is looking at Derek's bare feet.

"I know."

"Did you think it was stupid?"

"No."

"Because you're used to people having crushes on you?"

Derek turns the page. The thin magazine paper sticks to his sweaty fingers. "No."

"I wish I could email myself back in time. Dude, you'll snuggle in Derek's bed some day."

"I wouldn't classify this as snuggling, Stiles."

"I don't know, it feels like a big deal," Stiles whispers. He's still picking at his fingers. The covers ripple with the trembling of his hands.

Stiles has no idea.

"It is."