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Only By Entering The Wolf's Den

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Stiles sighed in relief as the fasten seatbelt light switched off, and swiftly grabbed his bag from under the seat, ready to get the hell out of there. He hated planes; they were boring and made him antsy and irritable. And having spent a week dealing with obnoxious undead - or re-lifers, as they preferred being called - he had even less patience for the bullshit that was flying than usual. He’d felt absolutely zero guilt when he’d surreptitiously undone his seatbelt almost before they’d landed completely. He needed out.

 

Five minutes later, they’d been let out at last, and he was at the baggage claim carousel, turning his phone back on to check for messages while waiting for his suitcase to appear. Stiles would’ve loved to travel with only a carry-on - it would’ve made his life so much easier - but too many of the tools of his trade were stuff he couldn’t bring into the cabin, and he really didn’t need that kind of scrutiny into his business.

 

His phone beeped alive, and messages started buzzing in almost immediately. Reminders from his dad to text when he landed and to eat some actual food with nutritional value for once, this goes both ways, kiddo, and no, curly fries don’t count, and Scott’s tales of the hilarious shenanigans of both the various animals at vet office and his now one year old daughter, some work-related messages. The usual stuff, until…

 

Baby-Sitter Girl from the Deep

(17:03) So there’s a babysitter discount, right?

(17:03) There better be, with all the shit you put me through

(17:07) In other words, there’s some stuff going on at the pub. I need you to take a look at it

(17:32) ...call me when you get this, ‘kay?



Stiles blinked at his phone in surprise. Sure, he talked to Laura - and most of the Hales - semi-regularly, but she’d never even joked about hiring him before. The Hales could usually handle anything the supernatural community could throw at them without even breaking a sweat. What the hell could possibly be going on that Laura felt Stiles could do a better job than her family? He quickly shot her a reply.

 

Baby-Sitter Girl from the Deep

(20:19) Sorry, I was stuck in a plane. Luckily no snakes :D

(20:19) ?Still at the airport. Call you when I get home

 

With how quickly he got Laura’s affirmative in return, she must’ve been watching her phone like a hawk, for once. Were things really that dire back in Beacon Hills? Lost in thought musing over what could possibly be wrong, Stiles almost missed his suitcase coming around, and had to shove his way through the waiting crowd to grab it. He scurried out of there pretty quickly before anyone had time to start anything over his unfortunately straying elbows and suitcase corners. The guy he’d almost caught in the eye was looking especially murderous.

 

Stiles made his way to the long term parking and his Jeep, patting her on the hood in greeting. She was pretty much a distinguished elderly lady at this point, and he preferred treating her with the respect she deserved.

 

Mostly because she got temperamental about starting if he didn’t.

 

Apparently, she must have missed him, though, ‘cause she started on the first try. Or maybe she was just every bit as eager as Stiles was to get out of the damn airport.

 

Windows rolled down all the way for air, he turned onto the highway to get home to his glorious apartment in Santa Cruz, admittedly at less-than-legal speeds. Fine lady though she was, the Jeep didn’t have a working radio anymore, and driving an hour and a half with nothing but engine and wind noise for entertainment was a special kind of torture. He preferred to shave as much time as possible off of this drive.

 

Not for the first time, Stiles wished his magic worked on the Jeep, but no such luck. Then again, having magic cars usually didn’t end all that well for their owners. It always started innocently, and then suddenly your car could fly or was stalking you. Bad times all around.

 

An entirely too long and boring drive later, Stiles was home at last, and wanted nothing more than to collapse on his bed and sleep for about three years. He was already regretting promising Laura that phone call, but going back on a promise with her - or any of the Hales, really - was usually a very bad idea. Plus, if something bad enough to worry Laura was happening, Stiles should probably be worried as well.

 

With a sigh, he inched his phone out of his pocket and found her number in his contact list while he went for the part of what he wanted that he actually could do at the moment: starfishing bonelessly on his wonderful, exactly-the-right-ratio-of-soft-vs-firm bed that smelled only of himself and his detergent, and no creepy motel smell of industrial strength soap, other people, faint cigarette smoke, and other things he really didn’t want to know about.

 

“Stiles?” Laura asked as she picked up, and he snorted a laugh at her.

 

“What, not so much as a hello, Laura? Is that any way to greet your favourite mage?” he teased with a tired smile.

 

“Oh, shut up, you,” she groused good-naturedly. “Social niceties are for people who haven’t covered my fur in smelly goo. Repeatedly.”

 

“Hey, it was an accident!” Stiles protested, but Laura’s very pointed silence was enough for him to add: “...most of the time.”

 

“Do you know how sensitive my nose is in wolf form? Do you?” Laura demanded with a growl, and Stiles felt an ever so tiny stab of guilt. Luckily, it was her playful growl, and not the actually angry growl. Werewolves were pretty much Stiles’ favourite supernatural creatures, and Laura one of his favourite wolves, but her angry growl was quite possibly the most terrifying thing in the world. “Which means you totally owe me. I expect my discount to be steep, Stiles.”

 

“Hey, we’re practically family. And would I charge family?” With Laura laughing over the line, Stiles put the phone on speaker, and started half-heartedly undressing. His clothes smelled of stale airplane air and he wanted out of them so badly, but it was hard to summon the energy for it. “So, what exactly do you need me for? I gotta admit, I really didn’t expect getting any business from Beacon Hills, you guys seem to have that entire area firmly in hand.”

 

“Perks of being an old and well-established pack,” Laura said, sounding entirely too smug for someone who could take absolutely zero credit for it. The Hale pack had been old and well-established since long before she’d even been born. Then she sighed. “But we’ve been having some trouble over at The Den, and the pub is mine and Derek’s. I don’t want it to become a pack thing. Plus, we can’t get a bead on the scent, or tell in any way where this stuff’s all coming from.”

 

She paused, and Stiles could actually hear her fidgeting. Which was weird, since Laura didn’t really fidget. Ever. “And, well. It’s not really serious enough that clawtip justice seems like an appropriate response. It’s all kind of prank level stuff.”

 

Mind rapidly whirring over possible culprits for supernatural pranking, Stiles hmmm’ed thoughtfully at her as he kicked his discarded clothes off of the bed. “Well, that doesn’t really narrow things down much, so this might take a while, but I’ll see what I can do, okay? I’ve got a couple of small odd jobs I need to get out of the way before I can make the drive up to Beacon Hills, but I should be done by this weekend, at the latest.”

 

A week of wrangling the petty and obnoxious nests of vampires in Miami - and why Florida? What kind of vampire moved to a place of sun and beaches and partying it up? - meant that his closer-to-home requests had really started to pile up.

 

“That’s fine, Stiles. Like I said, it’s nothing really serious, but it is getting annoying, and it’s starting to affect business.” A slight growl entered her voice at the end.

 

“I’ll call you when I’m free to make the drive, and we can work out some time for you to walk me through the whats and the whens of the pranks, sound good?” he suggested while wrangling his covers out from underneath himself so he could use them for their intended purposes.

 

“Perfect,” Laura agreed. “Good luck with your other work. And Stiles? Thanks.” She hung up, and Stiles blinked at his phone. Thanks from Laura - much like apologies - were extremely rare events. Was she really that invested in keeping The Den independent from pack?

 

Dropping his phone next to his pillow, Stiles groaned, desperately wanting his brain to shut up and not start to analyse every single part of the conversation he’d just had. He was too tired to put up with that shit.

 

Luckily, his brain seemed to get the memo, since it quieted down and let him sleep in what felt like seconds. It was probably a new personal record.

 

 


 

 

In an act of benevolence from the universe, Stiles managed to fix his stack of odd jobs up ridiculously fast. It was probably the first time ever that he’d managed to go through several cases without bumping into an unfortunate and time-consuming complication or three.

 

So by the time Thursday rolled around, he was parked outside The Den, kind of nervous about work for the first time in a very long while - working for family was different, okay - but mostly just excited. It’d been entirely too long since he’d been back in Beacon Hills, especially for more than just a whirlwind of seasonal dinners and gatherings before he had to hurry back south for more studying, and now work.

 

His dad was going to kill him for not stopping by before coming to the pub, but business before pleasure, right?

 

Grabbing his messenger bag with some of his more frequently used supplies, he bounced out of the Jeep and across the lot to fling the heavy pub door open.

 

“Honey, I’m home!” he called obnoxiously loud and drawn out for werewolf ears. When you had friends with very sensitive hearing and the lungs to do something about it, it was pretty much a sworn duty to exploit it. Even if it meant a couple of patrons looking up from their meal to stare at you as if you’d lost your mind. He couldn’t immediately see Laura, but the entire place smelled like heaven, so he blithely ignored the STAFF ONLY sign and went behind the bar and through to the kitchen.

 

His bet that she was out there bugging Derek while he cooked wasn’t a winning one, but it felt like a win either way, since he got to see Derek in a sinfully tight tank top. Sure, he was mostly resigned to looking; that touching would never be a thing he’d get to do, depressingly enough, but hey, the view was still nice as ever.

 

Derek barely even looked away from whatever he was doing to growl at Stiles over his shoulder, adding a flash of inhumanly glowing eyes. “Stiles. Get out of my kitchen.”

 

Stiles pouted at him. “Aw, c’mon, this is the welcome I get? That’s cold, Derek.” He leaned against the doorframe, knowing from experience that even getting close to any particular part of the kitchen would get him his head bitten off. Well, metaphorically speaking. So far, he’d managed to avoid antagonizing any supernatural creature into actually biting his head off.

 

Derek scoffed, rolling his eyes, but turned around to face Stiles properly. He was loath to admit it, even to himself, but the fact that Derek didn’t out and out ignore him was a point of pride for him. He knew he wasn’t Derek’s most favourite person in the world, far from it, but at least Derek noticed him, unlike most people, who didn’t even garner a second look from the surly guy, and were forgotten in about three seconds flat.

 

“But seriously, I haven’t been home in five years, and-...”

 

“What, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the odd week for summer break don’t count?” Derek interrupted with a snort.

 

“Shush, is that the way to treat someone who came home just for you?” Stiles grinned and fluttered his eyelashes, trying not to laugh at how it made Derek’s jaw clench. He knew he really should stop antagonizing the guy, but it was just so much fun. And any reaction was better than no reaction, right? So Stiles had always convinced himself, ignoring the tiny - miniscule, really - churning part of his stomach that told him otherwise.“Fine, be that way. I’ll keep it strictly business, be professional and stuff.”

 

“And stuff,” Derek repeated with a condescending eyebrow and his voice dripping with doubt. Stiles stuck out his tongue at him in a glorious display of maturity and professionalism.

 

“Anyway, Laura did tell you why I’m here, right?” Stiles asked, tugging his neckline down and tilting his head back a little to properly display the thick belt of tattoos across his collarbone - his anchor, in werewolf terms - that let him do more complicated craftings and was something of a badge for his status as a mage. “She basically blew my phone up during my flight back from Miami, so I figured it was super urgent, and what, I find out you guys have a prankster running around? Seriously, for a while, I thought I’d come home and find Beacon Hills had turned into a war zone or something.”

 

Stiles absentmindedly brushed his fingers across the ink, and he could feel his magic purring under his skin at the touch, leaning into it. He let his hand drop, flexing his fingers a little to make them stop tingling. They had a tendency to do that if he played with his tattoos when he had a magic surplus. Close to a week of jobs that hardly required magic at all, following the week he’d spent mostly doing negotiations, and now a couple-hour drive to top it off?

 

Yeah, his magic was getting antsy.

 

“Anyway, I was kind of halfway dead from exhaustion when I talked to her, so I’m not sure I got all the details, but you’re having some kind of supernatural sabotage stuff going on, right? Heavy on pranks, low on actual physical harm? Where is Laura, anyway, she was supposed to meet me here to walk me through this shit. Not that I mind your stellar company, of course, but she’s always been on my case about showing up on time, y’know?”

 

Derek didn’t reply, didn’t even look like he was listening. Instead, he was staring at Stiles neck like he wanted to rip it out with his teeth or something. Dammit, the babble had been too much, huh?

 

It wasn’t like he wanted to babble, but the combination of Derek’s hotness and his magic twitching for an outlet wasn’t a good one for his brain-mouth filter.

 

“Derek? C’mon, no dreams of maiming and the rending of flesh, talk to me here.”

 

With a deep breath, Derek blinked and focused on Stiles’ face again. He sighed. “Of course Laura told me, and she’s on her way. Now get out of my kitchen and sit your ass down somewhere. I’m supposed to feed you.”

 

Stiles’ stomach rumbled, as if it was letting the world know how very relevant to its interests that was. It would’ve been embarrassing if he didn’t agree so very whole-heartedly with his stomach on this particular topic. Derek’s food was to kill for, and Stiles wasn’t ashamed to admit it. He threw Derek a lazy salute, backed out of the kitchen and went for his preferred table, the one closest to the bar of all the window booths.

 

He carefully set his messenger bag down on the right-hand side of the booth, and flopped down next to it with much less care. Looking around and taking in the place, Stiles gave an awkward nod to the patron staring at him, some guy he’d gone to high school with and vaguely remembered from lacrosse. Most of the time, Stiles tried not to think about high school. It’d been… not awful, but really not all that great, either.

 

The guy - Greenville? - thankfully turned back to his eating, and Stiles went on to study the other patrons instead. A kind of frazzled-looking lady, probably in her late thirties, an older guy with a crossword next to his lunch/dinner, and a uniformed deputy who was probably fairly new, judging by his age, and the fact that Stiles didn’t know him. His expressions as he ate suggested that he was having either a religious or sexual experience over the food. Possibly both. Stiles gave him the stink-eye, since the deputies better not be encouraging pub food habits to their Sheriff.

 

Reluctantly, he looked away - cops usually got pissy about strange kids glaring continuously at them - and took in the interior of the pub. They’d opened it after Stiles left, so he hadn’t been here too many times, despite eating at The Den basically being compulsory for any and all visits home. But usually, he’d come with his dad, or a whole bunch of Hales, which generally meant he didn’t have time to just study and catalogue the place.

 

Well, except the steady hum at the back of his brain that was always studying and analysing his surroundings, regardless of whatever else he was doing at the time.

 

But he really did love the place. Not only was a meal at The Den the best eating you could do in all of Beacon Hills - possibly also California - but the place was soothing, relaxing. The row of windows all along the one wall let in plenty of light to counteract the dark colour of the thick, rough, uneven-sized wood panels on the walls and ceiling, and the multiple heavy wooden beams were all carved with beautiful Celtic knotwork.

 

Had it just been art, Stiles would probably be making endless knot jokes every time he came here, but to a trained eye, the knotwork was more than that; powerful spells of calming and protection, warding against all kinds of bad intentions, and encouraging patrons to feel happier and more relaxed. But making tasteless jokes about magical objects and functioning wards was a good way to get seriously hurt, so Stiles would keep his stellar joke material to himself. Spells tended to resent that kind of thing.

 

He absentmindedly rubbed the knotwork lining the window frame where he sat, sending his magic to say hello and maybe strengthen the wards a little, if they were feeling compatible today. The spellwork on The Den wasn’t Stiles’, and it could be tricky, interacting with other practitioners’ stuff.

 

The magic version of butt sniffing seemed to go over well, and Stiles sighed happily as he felt magic rush from his reserves and into the knotwork, spreading throughout the room. The double whammy of less magic cluttering up his body and the calming spells getting an extra kick eased out his jitters, and he could just about feel his brain slowing down to more manageable levels.

 

Still, Stiles’d never been the patient sort, so waiting for Derek to show up with his food, he tapped his fingers against the coarse grain of the heavy wooden tables while he played a game of trying to figure out which of the countless forest landscape photos that littered the walls were from the Preserve. There was even one of a pack of wolves Stiles suspected to be a rather cheeky family portrait.

 

He was just about ready to head back to the kitchen and bug Derek about what was taking so long when the guy finally showed up.

 

“There you are!” Stiles exclaimed with a grin. “I ever tell you how much I love the way you’ve outfitted this place? It’s very… fitting, if you’re in the know.”

 

With an exaggerated eyeroll, Derek sat down on the opposite side of the table and slid a deep plate of delicious-smelling gorgeousness across it towards Stiles, along with a smaller cup of some kind of sauce. “The inside jokes are all Laura’s fault. Now eat.”

 

“Ooh, don’t mind if I do,” Stiles said, snatching the plate closer and grabbing one of the thick fried potato wedges. He threw the whole thing in his mouth and moaned in bliss. “What is this, anyway?”

 

“New menu item I’m considering,” Derek said gruffly, staring at his folded hands on the table, and was that a pink tinge to his ears? Was he embarrassed? What possible reason did he have to be embarrassed about when it came to cooking? “It’s my take on fish & chips; beer-battered cod with garlic rosemary house fries and spicy remoulade.”

 

Stiles blinked. “What the hell is a remoulade?” he asked, and grabbed another fry and scooped out a lump of the sauce with it and stuffed his face again.

 

“It’s a cajun dipping sauce with m-...” Derek trailed off with a sigh. “Never mind, just eat your food. And use your damn fork.”

 

Stiles collapsed laughing. “Oh man, lectured on table manners by a werewolf.” Still cackling, he dutifully grabbed his fork, grinning when the cod separated perfectly when he used the side of his fork to cut it, no knife needed. The moment the fish hit his tongue, he slumped back against his seat with a long groan.

 

“Oh my god, I swear, I’ve had orgasms less satisfying than this,” he mumbled around the food in his mouth, grabbing more before he was even done chewing. Depriving his tastebuds of this kind of deliciousness for even a split-second would be a crime. “Seriously, though, definitely approved addition to the menu. There’s just one thing missing.”

 

Derek raised a questioning eyebrow, and Stiles grinned at him. “The fries should totally be curly.”

 

“I will punch you, don’t think I won’t,” Derek growled, trying to look properly intimidating. Stiles had seen the guy with his sisters, though, and wasn’t particularly impressed. With the kind of impeccable timing she usually had, Laura chose that moment to burst through the doors.

 

“Stiles!” she exclaimed, and basically flung herself on him in a crushing hug. He laughed and hugged her back.

 

“Hey, Laura. How’s my favourite babysitter doing?” Stiles asked, and scooted closer to his bag and the wall to make room for her in the booth.

 

“Better now that you’re in town,” Laura retorted with a wink, ruffling his hair. Lightning quick, she stole a fry from his plate, despite his loud protests.

 

“Those are mine,” Stiles pouted at her. “Derek made them for me, and they are too delicious to share. Give it back.”

 

“Yeah, well, he cooked on my behest, so I deserve a tribute.” She grinned and chomped down on her purloined potato wedge. “Besides, I doubt you want it now.”

 

“Don’t tempt me,” Stiles growled in dire warning. Laura blithely chewed on, clearly unconcerned with Stiles’ threat. He just watched her, torn. He really didn’t want to put his mouth on her, ugh, but he desperately wanted that fry back, even if it was half-chewed already. They were that good.

 

He was torn out of his dilemma by Derek getting up.

 

“You’re leaving?” Stiles asked, disappointed. Well, he should’ve known, really. Laura was here now, and Derek generally didn’t stick around anywhere Stiles was. Still, when Derek actually sat down, he’d hoped…

 

Clearly that’d been a stupid thing to do.

 

“I have work to do. I’m sure Laura can walk you through this without me holding her hand,” Derek said coolly, before walking off with a scoff.

 

Laura cooed, hugging Stiles and ruffling his hair. Sulking, he shoved her off.

 

“Aww, you look like someone kicked your puppy. Ignore the grumpmeister, he’s just being a giant idiot.” The last two words she shouted, clearly intending for Derek to hear, despite the fact that he could probably have heard her anyway, even if she’d been whispering.

 

Stiles gave her a weak smile before rummaging through his bag for a notebook and pen. “Whatever, it’s not like Derek basically running to get away from me is news. Let’s just get this over with, so I can get out of his way. So. Details? What’s been going on?”

 

With a sad look, Laura shook her head, but wisely said nothing. Stiles really wasn’t in the mood for any soul-searching or whatever from her right now. He’d just focus on doing his job, and then getting the hell out of Beacon Hills. Maybe by the next time he came home, he’d be able to forget all the million ways in which Derek kept breaking his heart.

 

Stiles scoffed at his own thoughts. Yeah right.

 

 


 

 

It took them close to two hours to go over all the details, but at least Stiles had a fairly clear picture of the situation. A couple of the incidents seemed deliberate, but mostly, it smacked of general misfortune and bad luck spells, and not very good ones, at that. Then again, with the complicated web of protective magic woven throughout The Den, it was possible they’d been dampening the effects of the malicious spells, turning them from outright dangerous and unpleasant to minor annoyances.

 

Of course, having the wards constantly hammered like that wasn’t really ideal; even if the sabotage attempts were all low grade spells, they’d weaken the protective wards over time. Still, the sheer number of supernatural creatures who generally caused mayhem and misfortune meant that narrowing down the suspect pool would probably be tricky. Especially if, in a pub run by werewolves, no-one had been caught red-handed, and any attempts at sniffing them out had failed.

 

Oh well, Stiles had his own resources, both mundane and not, and he was determined to figure this out. At least with the boost he’d given the wards earlier, they should be good for a while longer.

 

For now, he had a father to visit - and probably also appease, for not coming to see him immediately - and a couple of deputies who needed a reminder that their Sheriff was on a diet, and that any attempts at enabling the man would be… unwise.

 

“Hey, Deputy Green, owning the natural kinky hair, I see,” Stiles greeted with a grin as he entered the station. “Good for you, straight perms are for philistines.”

 

“You saying I used to be a philistine, kid?” she asked with a perfectly shaped raised eyebrow, barely even looking up from her paperwork. Her long, deep red nails looked almost as intimidating as werewolf claws. She probably didn’t even need a gun to subdue criminals, those nails were enough.

 

“‘Course not,” he backtracked somewhat smoothly. “Not your fault society keeps pushing

pointless and illogical beauty ideals down your throat.”

 

“I’m not sure if I should be proud of you or worried about you, Stiles,” Deputy Green said with a snorted laugh. “I think you’ve got yourself too many female friends.”

 

“All the women in my life are goddesses, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world,” he sniffed at her, arms crossed defensively.

 

“They’ve got you well trained, too, I see.” She got up and tugged him into a hug across the desk. Stiles hugged her back, breathing in the nice floral scent of her perfume. Patting his back, she let go.

 

“Damn straight,” he confirmed, grinning. “Is my dad in?”

 

Deputy Green waved him on. “Yeah, go straight through. And Stiles? Good to have you back.”

 

“Thanks, Marley. It’s good to be back,” he told her with a wave as he went for his dad’s office.

 

“That’s Deputy Green to you, kid!” she called after him, but her laughter took the sting out of the words.

 

The door to his dad’s office was propped halfway open, but hearing multiple voices, Stiles knocked on the door frame before entering. Ah, his nemesis, Deputy Eats-A-Lot, from earlier. He gave the man a wary nod before turning to his father. “Hey, dad.”

 

“Stiles,” his dad said with a smile and removed his glasses, at the same time Deputy Eats-A-Lot burst out with a horrified-sounding ‘dad?!’

 

Stiles waved at the guy with a sheepish smile. His dad gave them both a shrewd look, before sighing. “Stiles here is the ‘suspicious young man’ you saw at Hale’s place, isn’t he.” It was more statement than question.

 

The deputy seemed torn between being mortified and afraid for his job, but he nodded, fidgeting nervously with his utility belt.

 

“Don’t worry about it, Luke. Stiles has a tendency to inspire that feeling, especially in new deputies. It’s usually the mark of a good cop,” his dad said, ignoring Stiles’ protests. Luke, or whatever his name was, preened at the praise from his boss. “But I can ease your mind by saying he’s in town to help the Hales with a problem he’s uniquely qualified to handle due to his job, and he was only glaring at a police officer like yourself due to…?” he trailed off with a prompting look at Stiles.

 

“It was the ‘you better not drag your boss down with you on those eating habits’ stare,” Stiles explained with a shrug. Deputy Luke gave him a look that clearly questioned Stiles’ sanity.

 

“My kid is trying to kill me with kindness. He’s enlisted most of the department to his cause, and none of them seem to care overmuch that I’m their boss, not him. It’s an ongoing struggle. Every time I get new people here, I try to keep them out of it, yet somehow, he gets to them all, despite not having actually lived here for five years.” He gave Deputy Luke a sad look. “I was hoping he wouldn’t find you.”

 

The poor deputy was hiding his confusion badly, and seemed to be questioning whatever life choices had brought him to his job here in Beacon Hills. Stiles shrugged, unconcerned with the guy’s apparent crisis. “You’re not as young as you used to be, dad. Gotta keep that ol’ ticker going.”

 

His dad muttered unsavoury words under his breath that Stiles was definitely not allowed to repeat, despite being a successful adult living on his own.

 

“I’ll, uh… see myself out, then,” Deputy Luke said, inching towards the door. The Sheriff waved him off casually, and Stiles gave him a polite smile.

 

“It was nice meeting you, Deputy…?” he asked, offering his hand. See? Stiles could totally do grown up and professional and stuff.

 

The guy blinked in surprise, before smiling back. And huh, his brown eyes twinkled prettily when he smiled. “Thompson. Just Luke’s fine, though,” he said, giving the offered hand a firm shake.

 

“I’m sure you can guess my last name’s Stilinski, but just call me Stiles. Less weird that way, when your boss is a Stilinski too, right?” Stiles said with a grin. “I’ll look you up for a discussion of my dad’s diet sometime soon, okay? Coffee and contraband pastries on me. It’s a rare opportunity, since pastries are banned from this entire building.”

 

“Sure thing,” Luke replied, looking pleasantly surprised and kind of dazed. Well, finding out the suspicious character you’d seen wasn’t anything to worry about was probably a relief, and even a single Stilinski was enough to put a lot of people off balance. Two of them in the same room? Usually a terrifying thing. “I’ll, uh, see you around then, Stiles.”

 

As he walked out, Stiles gave him a wink and a small wave. He turned back, and was faced with his dad’s sternest stare. Stiles did his best indignant ‘whaaaat?’ expression.

 

“We don’t have to have a repeat of that talk about how my deputies are off limits, right?”

 

“What?!” Stiles sputtered, and he could feel heat rising to his cheeks. Damn the man and his ability to make Stiles feel like an awkward teenager again. “I didn’t, dad! I wouldn’t.”

 

Really?” his dad drawled. “‘Cause that’s not what it looked like from here. Pretty sure that’s not how Luke took it, either.”

 

“Oh my god, no! How do you not know by now how very much I do not have that kind of game? And even if I did, I’m pretty sure the guy’s kind of way out of my league.” Stiles generally saw himself as a romantic, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t realistic about his romantic expectations. Well, mostly, anyway. He slumped into the chair in front of his dad’s desk, and covered his face with his hands.

 

“There’s no such thing as anyone out of your league, Stiles,” his dad replied firmly. His chair creaked as he got up. Stiles uncovered one eye to glare at him.

 

“You’re my dad, you’re kind of obligated to say that. Excuse me if I don’t take it at face value,” Stiles grumbled. He only got an unconcerned laugh for his troubles.

 

“Come give your old man a hug,” he said, arms wide and a big smile on his face. Stiles couldn’t help but catalogue every new wrinkle, but he got up easily and thumped against his dad’s chest, ignoring the softly exclaimed ‘oof’. He knew it was mostly for show, anyway.

 

“Missed you, dad,” he mumbled against the sheriff uniform, hugging his dad close.

 

“Missed you too, son.” He rubbed the back of Stiles’ head, and it was almost like being a kid again. “Now, what’s this I hear about you being in town for a couple of hours already? What, your only family rates that low these days?”

 

Stiles let out a laughing groan. “C’mon, dad, I’m here for work. You know I had to head out to meet Laura first.”

 

His dad gave him a look that spoke volumes. “Work, right. I’m sure that’s the reason you headed over there the second you were in town.”

 

“Shut up,” Stiles muttered, and he could feel his face heating all over again. Damn it, he hated how good his dad was at his job. “When do you get off, anyway? Laura said we’re both invited over for family dinner later. The ‘you better come, or else’ was strongly implied in my case, at least.”

 

“I’d love to face the firing squad with you, kiddo, but I’m afraid I’ve still got some work to do tonight, so I doubt I’ll make it.” His expression was a very good approximation of apologetic, but Stiles knew better.

 

“Work, right,” he snorted, using his father’s own words against him. “Well, that’s fine, I guess. Just remember to eat something. Something healthy.”

 

“It’s not like I can sneak anything else into the station these days,” his dad muttered darkly. “Now go. I’ve got work to do, and so do you.”

 

Stiles sighed morosely, and headed for the door. “The downside of being a real adult. I’ll see you tonight, then.”

 

“See you tonight, Stiles. And be careful, okay? I know you’re good at what you do, and that you can handle yourself, but still. You’re my kid, and I worry about you.”

 

“I’m always careful,” Stiles said, flashing his dad a grin as he left. He could just barely hear the muttered response of ‘yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of’ float after him.

 

Waving goodbyes to the various deputies, interspersed with pleas for them to ‘take care of my dad, okay,’ he made his way out to the parking lot and his Jeep. He didn’t have that many hours left until dinner at the Hales’, so a shower and change of clothes was first on his to do-list. Then some reading and research, though it was a toss-up whether he’d do it at his dad’s house or at the Hale place. He’d get more done at his dad’s, but he was also more likely to get sucked in and forget the time there.

 

Eh, he’d decide after his shower.

 

 


 

 

In the end, he decided to head up to the Hale house early, since Mama Hale’s impatience with tardiness was even more legendary than Laura’s. It was probably where Laura got it from, anyway. Of course, the Hales were the loudest, nosiest, most meddling group of crazies in the history of the universe - well, with the exception of Derek. For some reason, they guy didn’t really seem to give a shit what anyone did, unlike every single other Hale - so he’d mostly given up on his chances of getting any work done tonight.

 

The meddling was the reason his dad tended to ninja his way out of Hale family dinners, but Stiles had never really managed to achieve that level of stealth.

 

The moment he cut the engine on his Jeep, the front door slammed open, accompanied by a loud shriek/howl combination that was painful even for human ears. He’d barely even closed the car door behind him before getting tackled to the ground in a giant werewolf hug.

 

Scratch that; group hug.

 

“Hey, Cora, Erica, how’s it going?” he asked with a laugh, hugging them back awkwardly from where he was sprawled on the ground with them on top of him. “These clothes were clean, you know. I just showered, too.”

 

“Well, that’s what you get for being a mean stranger. You never call, you never write,” Cora sniffed primly, hugging him closer and rubbing her head against his shoulder. Erica was doing the same to his neck on the other side, although she was slightly more hesitant about it. Stiles had always assumed it was a born versus bitten wolf thing.

 

“Hey, I text you guys!” Stiles protested. “I Skype!”

 

“Not nearly enough,” Erica said with a playful growl. “Suffer your punishment quietly.”

 

Blinking in surprise, Stiles did as he was told. It wasn’t much of a punishment, anyway. The ground was kind of chilly, and it was awkward, trying not to notice the boobs squashed against him - Cora and Erica were basically sisters to him. Thinking about their boobs was a big hell no - but otherwise, it was fine.

 

Funny, really, how his brain had never gotten the sibling memo about Derek. Or maybe his brain had just slotted the girls as his sisters in law. Awkward.

 

Then he heard the screeching herd of tiny rhinos, and the reality of his punishment set in. He groaned loudly, and the girls on top of him shook with laughter. “Oh no, not the Cousins It.”

 

“Shush, they can hear you,” Erica cackled, and made herself into complete dead weight as Stiles started to struggle to get loose.

 

“UNCLE STILES!” screeched one of the Its - probably Hennie - and flung herself on top of them all. Stiles oofed a little; eleven year old werewolves were surprisingly heavy. Her younger and slightly slower siblings and cousins followed and cheerfully jump-tackled the hugging pile as well, without a single regard to their own safety or, perhaps more importantly, the safety of the squishy human at the bottom of the heap.

 

“Help,” he gasped, and got nothing but cackles and gleefully screaming children for his troubles. Werewolves were evil.

 

A laughing pair of feet - that’s what it looked like from where Stiles was lying, anyway - stopped by his head.

 

“Need a hand, Stiles?” the feet - well, Laura, really - asked, still chuckling.

 

“Why do you always get to be the knight in shining armour to Stiles’ damsel?” Cora sulked at her sister, propping up her head a little to fix Laura with a glare.

 

“Because I’m the eldest,” Laura replied primly. “And the future alpha.”

 

Stiles weighed his desire to protest the damsel comment against his desire to get out from under the crushing werewolf pile, and decided to keep his mouth shut. It was quite possibly the best attempt at a brain-mouth filter he’d ever made.

 

Laura grabbed him by his arms and simply pulled him straight up, scattering werewolves small and large all over the place. Stiles thought wistfully of werewolf strength as he did his best to brush the dirt and leaves off his clothes. Deeming them as clean as they’d get without a round in the laundry, he bent down to be on roughly the same height as the puppies still rolling around on the ground.

 

“Guys, what will your parents say when you come in covered in leaves and dirt like that?” he asked mock-sternly. “You’d think you were raised by wolves, or something.”

 

They shrieked with laughter again, apparently still finding the old joke funny. Hennie and her sister Viles - who was surprisingly okay with that nickname - got up and hugged him properly in an upright position. Their cousin Zach wasn’t too far behind.

 

Itty and Bitty were young enough they didn’t remember Stiles all that well, and had mostly run out to join the commotion. They happily continued to tussle on the ground, mock-growling.

 

“Missed you guys,” Stiles said, hugging the three kids back as hard and close as he could. Well, they were werewolf children, so they had the stronger grip, really. “How about we go in so I can say hello to everybody else as well, huh? If you’re nice, I’ll even carry whoever’s fastest to jump on my back.”

 

Hennie, never slow when it came to any kind of shenanigans, immediately jumped on his shoulder in a sort of weird fireman’s carry. Cora grabbed Zach and Erica grabbed Viles, who was on the verge of tears that Hennie had gotten to Stiles first. Laura picked up and carried in Itty and Bitty, one under each arm.

 

Stiles stared kind of resentfully at the girls. “It’s always so emasculating, being with you guys. I’m kind of struggling here, and you could carry the entire herd on your own,” he sulked as they made their way in. The ladies just cackled gleefully at him.

 

“That’s what you get for being a puny mage, instead of a werewolf,” Laura stated smugly, bouncing Itty and Bitty around just to show that she could.

 

“Shut it, or I’m setting your butt on fire. I know exactly how flammable your fur is,” Stiles grumbled back at her as they went through the front door, Cora easily holding it open for them, even though she was carrying the second biggest kid, after Hennie. Wrangling off his shoes with her on his shoulders was an… interesting experience. Especially since she kept wriggling against him, rubbing her face all over the parts of his shoulder, arm and back she could reach. “And there’s always goo as well. I’ll show you how puny I’m definitely not.”

 

“Don’t you dare,” Laura growled, flinging Itty and Bitty at the couch as they entered the living room. The two girls screeched with joy as they flew through the air and landed halfway on the couch and halfway on their parents, Dieter and Sophie, who’d conveniently been sitting there.

 

“I would’ve thought you’d be familiar enough with kids and babysitting to remember the dos and don’ts for children, Laura,” Sophie said with a stern look. Then she sighed and scooped Itty up to sit properly in her lap and tried her best to get her daughter’s hair and clothes back to a somewhat controlled state. Stiles suspected it was something of a lost cause.

 

“And stop encouraging them, sweetheart,” she complained to Dieter as he growled into Bitty’s dress, wolfed out as he blew a raspberry against her stomach, much to her delight.

 

“I thought we already established that I get to be the fun parent?” he retorted with a grin, looking up from Bitty’s dress, face already back to its human shape. Sophie’s Look spoke volumes of how much she was not going to put up with his shit.

 

Stiles set down Hennie and she wrestled Zach from Cora to run off somewhere. To find more Hales, probably, presumably to drag them in for hellos. “Hey, guys. How’s it going?” he said with a slight wave to the grownups. Viles had managed to crawl her way out of Erica’s grip, and was stuck to his leg like a particularly persistent octopus. He walk-carried her over to the couch, and settled into the small wedge of space between Sophie and the armrest with a groan.

 

“Hey, Stiles.” Sophie smiled at him, grabbing a scrunchie from out of nowhere - Stiles assumed it was some kind of special mom skill - and tying up Itty’s hair in a surprisingly okay ponytail. “It’s been too long, you know. You don’t visit often enough by far. Are you so busy with your work that you can’t spare a week at home every now and then? I thought self-employed meant you could set your own hours and stuff.”

 

Stiles grinned and hugged her, before Viles crawled up between them and settled in his lap, demanding his attention. He started up an absentminded clapping game with her while continuing the conversation. “You know how it is. The supernatural community are the biggest gossips in the country, so once I started getting requests, they never really stopped. And I always feel bad if I turn someone down, you know? It’s kind of hard to ignore people when they’re in trouble.”

 

“It’s not your job to save the world, you know,” Sophie told him with a smile, and shook her head. She leaned down and whispered in Itty’s ear to go play in the playroom for a bit. Itty whined a little, but reluctantly complied. Sophie then grabbed Bitty from her protesting husband, and promptly started to fix her hair and dress as well.

 

“I swear, you’re just as big a child as they are sometimes,” she told him, and Dieter just beamed innocently at her.

 

“So, Laura told me your latest job was in Miami?” Dieter asked, since he didn’t have a daughter to play with anymore.

 

“Yep!” Laura butted in, flopping onto the couch armrest now that there were fewer kids around to squash. “He was playing with vampires. His life has officially turned into Twilight.”

 

Cackling, Cora and Erica joined them, curling up in one of the free arm chairs. Ever since high school, those two had acted more like siblings than Cora ever had with her blood siblings. They were always sharing each other’s space, and the only time Stiles had ever seen them apart was when they were with their boyfriends, Isaac and Boyd. He secretly wondered if they sometimes had orgies or something, but mostly tried not to think about it. He really didn’t want to know.

 

“Don’t even!” Stiles groaned. “I am not being stalked by bad touch vampires, okay, that is just a world of no. And I definitely wouldn’t welcome any advances from one, the things are creepy. I spent an entire week trying to mediate a negotiation between nests, and they’re the haughtiest, most obnoxious beings ever. I had to bring squirt bottles of holy water to these things, and squirt them in the face whenever they tried to solve things with biting and/or hypnotising people. They’re worse than puppies. A whole week of the squirt bottle treatment, and not a single improvement in their obedience training.”

 

“So you’re saying werewolves are easier to train, then?” Erica asked deceptively sweetly, her eyes glinting dangerously. Ever since becoming a wolf, Erica seemed to always be looking for an excuse to whip out some whoopass. She could usually be trusted to take it easy on humans, though. Well, humans she and the Hales liked.

 

“Well, you guys are the actual puppies, you know,” he joked back. “Squirt bottles and dog whistles work wonders.”

 

“Work wonders at pissing us off, you mean,” Laura grumbled, doing her best to squish him. Viles seemed torn between enjoying the human/werewolf sandwich and protesting the interruption of their clapping game. “I still have nightmares of that time you managed to grab a dog whistle from the K9 unit.”

 

“Hey, that was totally a world of fun,” Stiles protested with a grin. “Don’t harsh on my excellent childhood memories.”

 

“I don’t think any babysitter has ever been exposed to so much torture in the history of babysitting, and I’m not even remotely joking here.” She totally was, though, Stiles could tell from her growl. Well, mostly joking.

 

“But it was worth it, right? I’m totally your favourite squishy human.” Stiles batted his eyelashes at her with a seductive grin, and she hugged him werewolf tight.

 

“Auntie Laura!” Viles whined, having apparently decided it was the right course of action at the moment, since her games were more important than some silly grown-up conversation, and werewolf tight hugs were tight when you couldn’t reach much higher than people’s chests.

 

“Totally my favourite squishy human,” she agreed and straightened up to sit properly on the armrest. “Pretty sure you’re the entire family’s favourite squishy human, despite how annoying you are sometimes.”

 

“You’re my favourite squishy human too, Stiles!” Viles agreed loudly, nuzzling against Stiles’ chest, apparently okay with a pause in the fun if it meant she got to have an opinion about something. “When I grow up, I’m gonna marry you, and I’ll make sure no-one ever tries to squish you.”

 

Being proposed to and called a squishy human by an eight-year-old, though, was relatively high on Stiles’ very long list of humiliating moments in his life. Not to mention the fact that Dahlia and Grant - and possibly Nate, who doted on his kid sisters - would kill him should he ever look at their baby girls like that, and Stiles kind of agreed. The age difference was that creepy. But yeah, despite her age and obvious hero worship, Viles was so much stronger than Stiles, physically. Damn werewolves and their tendency to make you feel so incredibly inadequate. And speaking of inadequate...

 

“Well, most of the family, anyway,” Stiles muttered, suddenly reminded of Derek’s behavior at The Den. He hugged Viles a little closer in an attempt to cheer up.

 

“What’s this? Did anyone claim otherwise? I find that highly unlikely,” Dieter protested. “I thought we took care of that pesky self-esteem problem already. You’ve always been awesome, Stiles.”

 

Sophie rolled her eyes at her husband and sent Bitty off to play with her sister, finally done with the clean-up. “Sweetie, that’s not really how it works. Don’t be the awkward uncle.”

 

Stiles was kind of glad she’d butted in. He didn’t really have low self-esteem, or anything, he was just realistic. And besides, it was hard not to feel down when the guy he’d been crushing on for half his life - despite his very best efforts to get over it - treated him like trash.

 

Laura shook her head, sighing, although Stiles wasn’t entirely sure who was exasperating her now. Sometimes, that was a long list, for Laura. “It’s just Derek being an idiot again.”

 

Dieter and Sophie both cackled, collapsing against each other in a combination of glee and werewolf touch addiction. “Ah. Well, Derek is a special snowflake. I wouldn’t worry about it too much, though. He has a hard time expressing himself sometimes,” Sophie said, and patted Stiles’ thigh.

 

Stiles fixed them with a suspicious glare. “I feel like I’m missing something here.”

 

“Oh, totally. But we wouldn’t want to spoil, and all that.” Dieter smirked the smirk of the very smug.

 

“You are evil, evil people,” Stiles accused, trying his best to hide behind Viles. Smirking Hales were usually not a good thing.

 

“Not evil, just plotting,” Sophie corrected, crossing her legs and brushing out her skirt, picking off the odd bit of forest floor that had gotten stuck there while she cleaned up her kids.

 

“That’s not really much of an improvement.” Stiles was the master of tricky and inventive definitions of words, okay, and he refused to be fooled by their lame tricks.

 

The conversation was somewhat derailed as Dan - Hennie and Viles’ youngest older brother, and the only resident teenager at the moment - came in and sat down on the couch backrest, perfectly happy to sit on what most people would call a pretty uncomfortable perch. Well, until Sophie and Dieter grabbed him and pulled him head first into the couch proper. After some flailing, he ended up lying in his back on the couch seat between Stiles and Sophie, knees hooked over the backrest.

 

“Hey, man,” Stiles greeted with a snicker. “How’s it going? Besides the obvious family woes, I mean.” He gestured towards Dan’s unrepentant aunt and uncle, ignoring their proclamations of innocence and all things good in this world.

 

Dan just shrugged and curled his arm around Stiles’ leg and nudged his own leg against Stiles’ shoulder. He probably thought it was a way stealthier attempt at scenting than it actually was. Stiles ticked him off his mental tally chart and wondered how many wolves he had left to deal with about this. Sure, he’d been away for a couple of months, but really?

 

“They’re not always annoying,” Dan grudgingly admitted; high praise, from a fifteen-year-old. “They’re worse with you here now, though. I think they’re showing off.”

 

Viles was trying to shove her brother’s leg off of Stiles, but Dan easily ignored her attempts, and her sulky glares. Stiles was trying his best not to snicker at them, but it was something of a challenge.

 

“Laura!” came an unnecessarily loud call from the kitchen, and Talia showed up in the doorway, arms crossed and a stern look on her face. “Why are you here if you don’t have my grocery bags with you?”

 

“Oh shit!” Laura exclaimed and jumped up from the couch and towards the door, to Cora and Erica’s great amusement and loud cackles. Talia switched her stern look towards them, next.

 

“For that, you girls get to go help Laura with the shopping. Chop chop!”

 

Knowing how futile and unwise it was to argue with the Alpha’s orders, they slunk meekly after Laura, muttering what were probably obscene profanities under their breath.

 

With a pleased nod that her orders were being followed, Talia turned to Stiles and beamed. “It’s so good to see you, Stiles!”

 

“I’d come give you a hug, but I’m kind of stuck.” Stiles gave her a sheepish grin, and glanced down at Viles.

 

“Ah, but that’s what Alpha privilege is all about,” Talia said with a smug smirk. “Dan, won’t you be a dear and take your sister to the playroom with the others?”

 

Dan rolled his eyes, but got out of the couch with an elegant and acrobatic roll. “This is abuse of power, you know. You’ll hear from my HR rep,” he complained. Still, he grabbed a protesting Viles and hauled her off.

 

Laughing, Stiles got up and went to give Talia her requested hug.

 

“We missed you, sweetie,” she whispered against his neck. “You don’t come home anywhere near often enough.”

 

“You’re only like the tenth person to tell me that today,” Stiles told her, feeling oddly touched. He knew he was annoying, okay, and could get on people’s nerves. That this many people missed him… It was gratifying and guilt inducing, at the same time.

 

“Well, hopefully it’s sunk in, then.” Talia released him with a firm pat to the back. “Now, you’re way too early, so I’m not feeding you for hours, yet. We still have cooking and stuff to do.”

 

“I know. I just didn’t want to start work and get caught up, y’know? I figured better to show up early and appease the overly affectionate werewolves.”

 

“Shush, there’s no such thing as ‘overly’ affectionate,” Talia retorted with a smile. “Now go on up to Derek’s gloom cave. It’s the only place in the house calm enough to concentrate on anything, and knowing you, you’ve got reading you want to do.”

 

“Uh,” Stiles said and licked his lips nervously. “You sure he won’t mind? I mean, I wouldn’t want to be an imposition or anything.”

 

Talia sighed and shook her head. “What happened to the boy who would burst into Derek’s room at all times of the day regardless of welcome? You two used to be so close. And besides, you came home to help with the trouble at his restaurant. It’s the least he can do.”

 

Stiles could feel his face burning at the reminder. “I, uh, guess I grew up a little? Or something? But yeah, I’m gonna head up now.” Slowly he edged backwards, stumbling over a stray foot stool and windmilling in place for a bit. Which was an excellent prompt to face the direction he was walking, really. Doing so meant he managed to get to the stairs without incident, and he only stumbled twice going up. Not too bad.

 

Dragging his feet a little, he headed for Derek’s room, and arrived all too soon. Gradually and in awkward bursts, he managed to bring his hand up to knock, but his knuckles hadn’t even touched wood before the door was pulled open. Stiles froze, his fist inches from Derek’s chest, oh god. He blinked up at Derek, hating how the guy was still just that little bit taller than him, despite the pretty awesome growth burst Stiles’d had a couple of years ago.

 

“Uh, hi,” he greeted, opening his raised hand for a slight wave. “Sorry, your mom kind of volunteered your room. Do you mind?”

 

Derek rolled his eyes and stepped aside. “I heard, Stiles.” Leaving the door open, he headed back to his desk, where it looked like he’d been in the middle of some kind of work. Assuming this was all the invitation he was gonna get, Stiles followed him into the room, gently closing the door behind him.

 

Leaving the problem of seating. With Derek at the desk, the only other available spot was really the bed. And god, Stiles shouldn’t even be thinking about Derek’s bed, so he stayed where he was, kind of frozen in indecision. Especially since having just had about a dozen wolves rub their scent all over him, Derek’s clear refusal to even touch him, apparently, cut that much deeper.

 

“Stiles!” Derek snapped, startling Stiles out of his thoughts. Derek was facing him, jaw clenched how it usually was when Derek was nervous about something and trying to hide it with anger. Stiles knew that expression. “You’re not… you’re not in the way.”

 

He sounded like the words were grudgingly pulled out, like he’d rehearsed them for hours until they had almost lost all meaning, yet were still hard to say out loud. Clearly this was something it’d been important for Derek to communicate, but it felt like it was part of a conversation, and Stiles had no idea what the rest of the conversation sounded like.

 

“What?” Stiles’ mouth blurted before he’d even had the proper time to think this through. Fuck.

 

“You don’t have to get out of my way, or-... you’re not in the way. You know I heard you, and I don’t think that, at all. So don’t think I do,” Derek said awkwardly, looking like he wanted to be anywhere but here, having this conversation.

 

Stiles gaped at him. “Didn’t your mom ever tell you not to eavesdrop? No, it’s Talia we’re talking about, of course not,” he muttered, and winced. “Sorry, that’s not at all what I was trying to say, crap. Uh, thanks?”

 

He paused, trying to wrap his mind around the concept of Derek… not hating him? Not minding his presence? Or something? “I just figured, since you don’t…” Stiles paused and trailed off, shaking his head. Because there was really no non-embarrassing way to complain about not being scented enough. Really, he was human, it was ridiculous to be bothered by it. “No, you know what? It doesn’t really matter, you’re allowed to not, y’know, treat me like they do or whatever. But, uh, you don’t mind me being around, then?”

 

“I don’t mind at all,” Derek replied, and that was actually a small smile. Stiles felt a little like his chest was going to burst, and couldn’t keep the grin from his face. It was silly, really. It wasn’t as if Derek had declared his undying love or anything, or even said he liked Stiles, but still. It was better than nothing, right?

 

Derek seemed surprised by his reaction, and Stiles wasn’t sure he wanted to know what his scent and heartbeat were saying right now. Nope, he definitely didn’t want to know. Trying to shake those thoughts, he dove for Derek’s bed, and pulled his phone for some quality research.

 

“Oh my god, what is this thing made of, clouds?” Stiles just about moaned when he hit the mattress. Not caring at all how it would look, he rolled around a little in Derek’s sweet as hell bed, before tilting his head to fix him with an accusing glare. “When did you get a new bed?”

 

“It’s been like ten years since you’ve been in my room, of course I’ve switched beds,” Derek retorted, rolling his eyes. “Actually, how do you remember what my bed was like, anyway?”

 

Stiles shrugged, trying to look nonchalant and not blush to death or look guilty as hell. “I just… notice things, I guess?” he said with a weak smile. Technically, it wasn’t a lie; he generally noticed a lot of stupid and pointless things, especially about Derek. It just happened to leave out the fact that he’d spent most of his teenage years fantasizing about that bed.

 

Derek hmm’ed thoughtfully, and Stiles wondered how very busted he was. But his worries were apparently unfounded, since Derek changed the subject.

 

“So where’s your stuff?” he asked. “I thought you came up to research, not play with your phone. Not that I don’t understand needing to get away from the horde.” He winced a little - Stiles assumed someone had been listening in and taken offense - and shouted ‘boundaries!’ back at whoever it’d been.

 

Stiles couldn’t help but laugh at that, because really? Expecting boundaries from this bunch? He shook his phone at Derek. “I’ve got most of my stuff compiled and copied on my phone as well. For emergencies, y’know? I forgot my bag in the Jeep when I was ambushed, but this’ll work for now. I’m too lazy to go grab it.”

 

Derek snorted at him and got up, holding his hand out. “Car keys.”

 

“What are you doing?” Stiles asked, but got nothing but a judgemental eyebrow and a ‘give it here’ hand motion for his troubles. Grumbling, he wriggled a little to get out his keys, regretting for the umpteenth time his choice to listen to Lydia and start wearing tighter pants. Finally getting the keys out, he threw them at Derek’s head. He, of course, easily grabbed them before they were even close to hitting their mark. And promptly jumped out the window.

 

“Derek?!” Stiles shrieked, and scrambled out of the bed and over to the window. Where he could see Derek casually walk over to the Jeep and grab his bag. What the everloving fuck.

 

As if somehow knowing Stiles was watching, Derek looked up, and right out grinned at him, looking entirely too pleased with himself as he headed back towards the house and the front door. Stiles choked on air. A grinning Derek should be illegal, he was bad for the health and, y’know, public safety and stuff.

 

Stiles was still trying not to expire by the window when Derek re-entered the room, setting the bag gently down on his bed before turning back to his desk. “There you go, Stiles. No more playing with your phone.”

 

“I wasn’t playing with my phone!” he sputtered indignantly as he flopped back on the bed and started digging through his bag. “Also, are you insane? Who the hell jumps from a second storey window just to get a bag?! The stairs are just down the hall!”

 

“It was faster this way,” Derek replayed with a shrug, and shot a quick smirk over his shoulder. “It’s not a big deal, I’m a werewolf, remember?”

 

“Show-off,” Stiles muttered resentfully. “One of these days those kind of childish antics are gonna get one of you guys killed, you know.”

 

The sudden silence was so loud Stiles could almost hear it. Warily, he looked up at Derek, and his shoulders were hunched, hiked up almost to his ears. Confused, Stiles replayed his own words in his head, and suddenly felt sick.

 

“Oh shit, Derek, I’m so sorry, that’s not at all what I meant, you know that, right? What she did wasn’t your fault, and besides, we got her before she could hurt anyone, okay?”

 

“Shut up, Stiles,” Derek growled, and clenched his pen so hard it broke in two.

 

“But-!”

 

“It doesn’t matter, okay? Just leave it!” Derek snapped, throwing his ruined pen in the waste basket and rooting through his drawers for a new one with slow, measured breaths.

 

Stiles watched him quietly, feeling like the biggest asshole in the universe. He desperately wanted to give Derek a hug, to offer comfort and show he was there, but he doubted Derek would let him, or even appreciate the gesture. Now even less so than usual.

 

Sick with misery, Stiles turned back to his reading, not knowing what else he could possibly do. Damn it, why did he always have to open his fool mouth?

 

 


 

 

Stiles didn’t like mornings even in the best of circumstances, and even less so when he’d spent half the night tossing and turning in bed due to his guilt over the epic fail with Derek. All the Hales assuming it’d been Derek who’d done something wrong when they both came down tense and unhappy hadn’t made him feel any better. He’d tried his best to set them straight, but he wasn’t sure how successful he’d been. They could be kind of stubborn about changing their mind

 

But still, he had diagnostic spells to perform at The Den, and he needed to get them done before opening hours; even in a town with such a large supernatural presence as Beacon Hills, straight out public magic practitioning would probably raise a few eyebrows. And, y’know, probably result in a few calls to the Sheriff’s department. Something Stiles would never live down.

 

So yawning and bemoaning his lack of coffee, he entered The Den at around nine. He was pretty sure he hadn't been up this early since his freshman year of college, before he'd learned to shun morning classes.

 

“We’re close-...” Derek pretty much burst out of the kitchen, stopping dead when he saw Stiles instead of some wayward customer or whatever. “Oh. Right.”

 

“Sorry,” Stiles mumbled, staring down at his own shoes, trying not to die from the awkward. “I’m here for work, remember? Don’t worry about me, I’m fine out here, so you can go on and, uh, do your thing? I won’t mess up your routine, promise.”

 

Derek huffed loudly. “It’s fine, Stiles.”

 

Stiles looked up with a weak grin. “It’s really not. But thanks?”

 

“It’s not like you said anything that wasn’t true,” Derek muttered, grabbing a rag to aggressively rub down the counter.

 

“That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a shitty, inconsiderate thing to say!” Stiles protested, rushing over to the bar as if physical proximity alone would help prove it’s point. “It doesn’t matter if I said the sky was fucking blue, okay, I made you feel bad, and I hate that. I hate it when you’re upset, and I hate it even more when it’s my fault. And besides, it wasn’t true anyway, not like that. There’s a difference between reckless physical stunts and- and, I don’t know, trusting people!”

 

Stiles sighed and thumped his head down on a part of the counter Derek hadn’t gotten to yet. “I guess I just wish I could make you happy somehow, but all I ever seem to accomplish is the exact opposite.”

 

“I-... you-...” Derek trailed off, sighing heavily. “Help us find out who’s messing with the pub, yeah? If we could stop this asshole, that’d make me… happy, I guess.”

 

Stiles rolled his head sideways so he could fix Derek with a single eye and a slight smile. “Yeah?”

 

The right-hand corner of Derek’s mouth twitched upwards just a little. “Yeah, Stiles.”

 

“Well,” Stiles said and pushed away from the counter with a wink. “Anything for you, Derek.”

 

It was probably a bit too honest, but he didn’t have time to worry about it. He had work to do.

 

Eyeballing the measurements of the room, he plopped down on the floor roughly at the center and took off his bag and three layers of shirts in one movement. It all got tangled together a bit, but not enough that he had any trouble finding his bottle of Enlighten-mint; a serum he’d found  mostly through random experiments and reading very old books, and one of the more commonly used tools in his job. Used properly, it enhanced regular senses a little, and your magical attunement a whole lot. If you botched it, you ended up smelling offensively of mint.

 

Stiles was happy he’d learned by now how not to botch it.

 

Humming a little, he dabbed some on his fingers, and dragged them across his anchoring tattoo, and from there down his chest to his belly button and the rune of power just below it. He could pretty much feel the excited rush of his magic against his skin, and he quickly followed with swipes across his eyelids, before he licked the rest of the serum from his fingers. It tasted like a mix of caramel, salt and flowers; not entirely awful, but not exactly pleasant, either. He was pretty sure he’d never get used to that flavour. Still, it was way better than the minty taste of failure. He breathed in deep, and slowly opened his eyes.

 

“Let’s see what we’ve got here, shall we?” he muttered, lazily turning his head to take in the entire room. The Celtic knotwork glowed brightly, clearly showing the strength of the wards, and there was a slight tinge to the air of the room that suggested werewolf and territory and den in the way all buildings frequented by werewolves tended to, to some degree. It was strong here, with how strong the werewolf presence was, and their emotional attachment to the place.

 

A couple of other hints from various creatures, so weak that Stiles couldn’t really make them out. But there was one presence…

 

He frowned, trying to focus on it. It was strange, not very strong, and unlike anything Stiles could pinpoint identity-wise right this moment; but there was clearly something else here that also saw this as territory in some way. Sure, their claim was weak - hardly even there - but it was just strong enough to facilitate-...

 

Yes, there were stronger hints at the spot by the bar where Laura had said three orders of burgers had exploded, and over by the table where the chair leg had broken. A couple of other places. Stiles smirked.

 

So, he’d caught their tail. Now he just had to figure out who the tail belonged to.

 

He turned to give Derek the good news, and blinked as the back door opened, showing a tiny woman probably a few years older than Derek carrying in a giant keg, huffing and puffing at its weight. Derek rolled his eyes and grabbed it from her, setting it down easily.

 

“You could always ask for help carrying, you know, instead of banging around like a crazy person,” Derek told her as he straightened back up, looking entirely too smug at how winded the woman was.

 

“Shut up. It’s less fun that way,” she muttered sourly, before crashing into Derek for a hug. She was short enough she could look around Derek under his arm, and she brightened visibly as she spotted Stiles. “Ooh, sweetie, did you finally do as I said and hire eye candy? He’s almost as handsome as you are!”

 

Stiles froze under her scrutiny, because what? Since when did Derek simply allow physical contact from people, just like that? Which probably meant she was special to him somehow. He tried not to feel nauseated by the thought that apparently Derek had a gorgeous, petite girlfriend with long, silky black hair and gently slanted eyes.

 

“No, he’s here to help with our prank trouble,” Derek explained with a sigh.

 

Still hugging him, she leaned back to fix Derek with a pout. “Boo! Why do you always refuse to take my advice? I feel so unloved.”

 

“Which is not my problem,” Derek said, rubbing his eyes before gesturing at Stiles. “Sachiko, meet Stiles, an old family friend. Stiles, this is Sachiko, our main beer supplier, and head of the local brewery.”

 

“What, you don’t introduce me as the love of your life?” Sachiko sulked, hand pressed against her chest in mock-hurt. Stiles tried his best not to flinch. Sure, he’d known Derek was straight, and out of his league, but this was really too much. Well, good thing he had time for a liquor store run after this, and maybe an ice cream run, too. Spending a night simultaneously drowning and eating away his sorrows sounded perfect right now. Maybe then he could try to be happy for Derek.

 

“Because I don’t like lying,” Derek growled, hands flexing at his sides in the way they tended to do when all Derek really wanted was to bring out the claws and apply them to aggravating people. “And I don’t like encouraging your stupid antics.”

 

Wait, what? Stiles blinked in surprise, trying to figure out if he was reading Derek’s comment wrong out of wishful thinking. Because it really did sound like Sachiko was just screwing around, and they weren’t actually dating. Yeah, it didn’t really improve his chances any, he knew that, but technically it was kind of better, right? If Derek wasn’t dating the cute Japanese lady?

 

“You’re such a party pooper, Derek,” Sachiko said, finally letting go, and crossing her arms as she sternly looked up at him. Then she smirked, and turned to Stiles instead. “Maybe your friend will be more fun? I’m always looking for pretty boys, you know.”

 

Stiles, still dazed with trying to figure out what the fuck was going on, just stared at her as she came around the bar counter and made her way over to him. She sat down on her haunches inches from him and cooed. It was somewhat disturbing. “Especially half-naked pretty boys.”

 

Shuddering slightly at the predatory tone of her voice, Stiles blinked out of his daze and focused on her. And stared. He knew that aura. Sure, he’d only seen it once or twice before, down in San Francisco, but he usually didn’t forget these kind of things. Especially not for the cases where he’d used Enlighten-mint. How had he missed that? Had he been that embarrassingly out of it because of the possible girlfriend thing?

 

“Um, Derek?” he called hesitantly, not daring to take his eyes off of Sachiko. Slowly, he moved his hand towards his bag, and hopefully one of the more universally useful weapons he kept there. “You do know that your supplier is a nekomata, right? As in, cat shifter-slash-demon generally known for - among other things - causing strife and misfortune and stuff?”

 

Sachiko’s eyes widened suddenly with fear, and she got out a startled ‘oh shi-..!’ before she was drowned out by a loud and angry werewolf roar, as Derek leapt across the bar and tackled her to the hardwood. Stiles winced as they mowed down a couple of chairs and a table, before thumping against a wall.

 

Well, he thought, grateful that The Den’s furniture was sturdy enough to survive the blow, that could have gone better.

 


 

It only took about fifteen minutes for the cavalry to arrive; Talia, Peter and Laura came screeching into the parking lot in Laura’s Camaro, and if they’d been driving from the Hale house, Stiles was pretty sure they’d broken every traffic law it was possible to break to get here that fast.

 

Stiles almost felt bad for Sachiko, but then again, if she’d been sabotaging a werewolf restaurant, she was too dumb for him to help, really.

 

“This her?” Laura growled as she burst through the door, fixing on Sachiko where she was tied to a supporting beam with magicked rope. Anger and disappointment and hurt were obvious on her face. “Sachiko, really?”

 

“Well, uh, it seems likely?” Stiles said hesitantly, not really wanting to start a bloody clawing spree. Seriously, he’d seen angry werewolves, and the stuff they did when they felt wronged. It wasn’t something he wanted to unleash, especially if he couldn’t prove something without a shadow of a doubt. But even then, he preferred using the actual law, if possible. Or anything but werewolf justice, really. “But let’s make absolutely sure before we do anything, okay?”

 

“Moderation was never my strong suit,” Peter remarked as he casually strolled in, picking absentmindedly at his claws. He was very good at the casually intimidating act. He leaned against a nearby booth, giving ample space for his Alpha to follow him into the pub and survey the situation. “And for a business partner screwing my niece and nephew over? I might be very hard to convince.”

 

“Look, it wasn’t me!” Sachiko protested, struggling against her bonds. Her voice wavered between fear and anger, which made sense, really. Nekomata, like most cats, were generally proud and solitary creatures. The indignity of being captured, coupled by the fear of potentially having an entire pack of enemies probably made for a delicate and somewhat torn mental state.“I swear!”

 

“So, is she telling the truth?” Stiles prompted. Hey, when you had werewolf lie detectors, you had to use them, right? Or at least remind them that they should use said ability, despite being pissed off and generally not very happy.

 

Derek blinked, and stared thoughtfully at Sachiko.

 

“She… seems to be?” he said, and turned to his family for confirmation. Both Laura and Talia nodded, while Peter shrugged dismissively. “Do nekomata have some kind of block against being read, do you think?”

 

Seeing that no answer was forthcoming from the others, Stiles tried to think back to everything he’d ever learned about them.

 

“Not… that I can recall. Hang on for a second,” he muttered and took a deep breath and laid his right hand flat against his anchoring tattoo. Feeling the magic flare up, he fixed on her again, and breathed in her aura. It did indeed have a lot of the same notes of the other aura he’d felt around the places of sabotage, but…

 

“I don’t think it’s her, no,” Stiles sighed dejectedly. “It’s close, though, but not quite right. Sorry, guys, for the false alarm and everything.”

 

Laura shrugged. “At least you found a possible suspect? That’s closer than we’ve ever gotten. And better call us just in case instead of just forging ahead. I know you, Stiles. When in doubt, you call us. I’d rather you called one time too many than one too few.”

 

“What, you want me to be the boy who cried wolf?” he shot back, grinning wildly. Peter and Sachiko, surprisingly enough, cackled, while the rest of them groaned. Which was insulting, really. They should be familiar enough with his puns by now that they didn’t act like he’d shot them with wolfsbane bullets instead of making a joke.

 

Still snickering a little, he appealed to the magic in the ropes he’d used for Sachiko, and they grudgingly untied her. “I’m so sorry, for, you know, having you tied up and everything. It was shitty of me to jump to conclusions. I know ‘we couldn’t risk you escaping’ is an awful excuse for unlawful imprisonment, but y’know.” He shrugged with a wince, trying to convey how badly supernatural dealings and the law sometimes meshed.

 

Sachiko rubbed her wrists, and brushed dust off of her clothes as she got up.

 

“Eh, it happens?” She shrugged. “You were nicer about it than most humans are. Made sure I was comfortable and stuff. And, y’know, you didn’t let the werewolves tear me to pieces, which is always a bonus.”

 

“Sorry, a lot of misfortune-related supernatural beings have a kind of similar magical… signature, I guess.” Stiles winced again, playing nervously with the waistband of his jeans. “I wasn’t really expecting there to be several people with a similar signature here, especially not people who are here often enough to mark it kind of as their territory, y’know? That requires a lot of visits, or some kind of emotional connection. Or both.”

 

The werewolves growled at that, clearly displeased that someone else also considered The Den theirs. Really, wolves were all terrible at sharing with anyone who weren’t pack. And even within pack sometimes.

 

“Well, at least this is the nicest view I’ve ever had while kidnapped,” Sachiko smirked, walking over and dragging a finger down Stiles chest and stomach, scratching a little at the top of his happy trail.

 

He squeaked at her, and jumped backwards. “Oh wow, holy shit. Well, I guess at least that answers the girlfriend question. Uh, thanks, but no thanks? Really, you seem like an awesome lady and all, but.. yeah.”

 

“Girlfriend question?” Derek rumbled, moving closer and crossing his arms angrily.

 

“I, uh, may have assumed you two were dating. For a little while, at least. Which made the identity exposing thing extra awkward, you have no idea.”

 

Derek and Laura both snorted loudly, and Talia covered her mouth so she wouldn’t be laughing openly. Her shoulders were still shaking, though.

 

“I think I may have some idea, yes,” Derek remarked dryly.

 

“I mean, what are the odds of that happening twi-... okay, shutting up now, right.” Stiles grimaced, and once again cursed his foot-in-mouth syndrome. Seriously, he should probably research if it was possibly to make some kind of spelled brain-mouth filter. It would save him a world of trouble.

 

He snapped out of his thoughts of wanting to beat himself over the head with a shoe to realize Sachiko had somehow snuck closer again. He gave a startled - yet manly- yelp and hid behind Derek. “Seriously, is this a cat thing? Rub up against the person in the room who’s giving off the strongest ‘do not want’ vibes? Do I need to fling a catnip toy across the room for you? Because I will.”

 

“Spoilsport,” Sachiko pouted at him, trying to subtly maneuver around Derek to Stiles. Fortunately, Derek was being a wonderful, perfect, glorious human being - well, werewolf - and moved with her, staying between her and Stiles like a good little meat shield. “It figures that one of Derek’s friends would be just as much of a stick in the mud as he is.”

 

“Hey!” Stiles protested, leaning around Derek, and maybe hanging off of his arm a little; just for support, really. “I am a fun, exciting person, thank you very much. I just object to being molested by people I don’t even really know.”

 

Sachiko fixed him with a predatory grin. “So you’d be okay with it if we got to know each other first?”

 

“Uh, you’re being creepy. Please stop.” He retreated behind Derek again, who was growling warningly. Such a good werewolf dude, seriously. Even Laura joined in on the growling, and really, Stiles wished he know how to bake or something, so he could get them thank you cookies. He’d have to think of some other way to show his gratitude later for being saved from the creepy cat lady.

 

“Whatever,” she huffed, wisely giving up in the face of annoyed werewolves. “But seriously, though, why would you guys think I’d do this? Sure, it’s in my nature and all, but why would I shit where I eat, y’know? It’s no fun causing misfortune and stuff where it’d affect my own business.”

 

“I admit it seemed somewhat farfetched, but still. We’ve seen stranger things, and people… pretending to be friends in order to get close enough to hurt us is something we’re sadly familiar with,” Talia said gravely, and Derek flinched.

 

Stiles couldn’t stop himself from leaning his forehead against Derek’s back in a show of support. He just hoped Derek would take it that way. Stiles had never really understood how Derek’s brain worked, after all.

 

Sachiko scoffed. “Now that’s just stupid. Pretending to like someone you don’t? Please, that’s way too much effort. Besides, working with someone creates a relationship, no matter what. My customers are my people. Misfortune is only funny when it happens to others. Although I have to admit it’s very amusing when it does.” She smirked happily in clear remembrance of past mischief.

 

Stiles pulled away a little from Derek to stare incredulously at her, feeling kind of slack-jawed. “You’re crazy, you know that?”

 

Peter grinned, moving from his casual slouch against the booth towards them to stand next to Laura, his eyes glinting with unholy interest. Peter being interested in anything or anyone usually didn’t signify anything good. “I have to disagree; that seems like a very healthy outlook on life, in my opinion. What did you say your name was?”

 

Sachiko smirked, and slinked seductively over to Peter. “Why, hello there. Finally some proper appreciation. It’s Sachiko. Sachiko Onodera. And you are?”

 

“Peter Hale. You might know me better as Laura and Derek’s most handsome uncle. It’s a pleasure to meet you, and apologies for the rough treatment. You know how these things go.” He gently took her hand and kissed it, as if he was supposed to be some kind of regency gentleman or whatever. Stiles grimaced at him. “So, how would you feel about going for a drink with me sometime? I always enjoy conversation with intelligent, beautiful women.”

 

“Flatterer,” she cooed, slapping his chest. “But, in the interest of full disclosure, I suppose I should tell you that I’ve been hitting on your nephew for the past two years or so. I hope you don’t mind too much?”

 

Peter shrugged, unconcerned. “Eh, I completely understand not being able to resist that particular temptation. It would be extremely hypocritical for me to judge you for that. I’ve been there.”

 

Stiles stared wide-eyed at Peter, then tugged at Derek’s arm for his attention. “Oh my god. He has?! He didn’t - not really, right?”

 

He was sounding kind of shrieky and incredulous, which was silly, because nothing should really surprise him about anything Peter Hale did, but still!

 

Talia and Laura sighed, while Derek shifted uncomfortably, with a surprisingly expressive grimace on his face. Well, surprisingly expressive for Derek, anyway. He had to feel pretty strongly about the topic, for it to make him emote this clearly. Not that Stiles blamed him, really. He didn’t have an uncle, but if he did, he’d pretty sure he’d make his dad arrest him if the guy had ever flirted with him.

 

“Unfortunately, yes,” Laura confirmed, rubbing her forehead. “It’s one of those awkward family  secrets. That aren’t really all that secret, really.”

 

“I’m kind of doubting my continued choice to socialize with you people,” Stiles muttered sourly, shaking his head in disbelief. Laura laughed at him, and grabbed him in a big hug. Talia joined in by ruffling his hair, and Peter just looked generally amused at him, as if he didn’t care that Stiles found him kind of super creepy. Or rather; that Stiles finding him super creepy was somehow hilarious to him.

 

“Nah, you love us too much to leave us,” Laura said with a grin, letting him go with a pat on the cheek. He grunted in annoyance at her, shoving both her and Talia off. Stupid overly affectionate werewolves and their tendency to be both sweet and kind of ridiculously annoying at the same time.

 

He turned to Derek with a pitying look. “But seriously, though, my condolences to you. I swear, you’re surrounded by creepers. I’d offer you a hug if I thought you’d want it.”

 

Derek just stared at him as if he’d lost his mind, and Talia and Laura both burst out laughing, pretty much collapsing on the floor.

 

“I seriously think I’m missing something here,” Stiles muttered at them, shaking his head. Were all the Hales on some kind of crack? Yesterday at the Hale house, and again now. And why wouldn’t they let him in on their inside joke? Usually they were pretty good at not keeping the human out of the loop. Did this mean they were laughing at him? Why?! Seriously, the Hales were usually the most inclusive werewolves out there. Well, once you were in their circle of approved people, of course. Laughing at the human and keeping them in the dark wasn’t really their style. If the Hales laughed at you, you usually knew why, and they would loudly and repeatedly let you know why they felt you deserved it. “What is going on?”

 

“I’m sure you’ll find out eventually. When you quit being so slow.” Peter smirked at him, reaching out to pat him on the arm. Stiles couldn’t help himself from dodging. Really, he needed some distance from the creepy perving-on-Derek revelation before he could do the casual touch thing with Peter again. Ugh. Luckily, Derek was once again the perfect shield, and seemed surprisingly okay with playing that role. Stiles would’ve felt bad for using Derek like that, but the guy was generally very good at expressing himself when he wasn’t cool with a situation, so Stiles figured he’d save his guilt for the next time he inevitably screwed up something with Derek.

 

“Hey! I am the speediest-...” Stiles protested from safely behind his meat shield, before trailing off. “Okay, that’s a lie, sorry. I’m not even gonna try that with a bunch of werewolves.”

 

“But, anyway,” he said, turning to Sachiko, hoping he could change the subject away from the mocking going on. “If it’s not you, do you know any other misfortune-causers? Seen them around, maybe?”

 

She thoughtfully tapped her chin and shrugged. “Not that I can say I’ve noticed here in Beacon Hills. But we’re mostly a solitary lot, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some around that I didn’t know of. Especially if they were from a different background, y’know? There generally tends to be cultural pissing contests when us misfortune-and-mayhem people meet up.”

 

“Oh, Beacon Hills, why are you fucking supernatural central, seriously,” Stiles muttered sourly, wanting to bang his head against the wall. “Seriously, most places? Territories don’t tend to overlap. Here, you’ve got werewolves, nekomata, whoever is doing this shit, and I’m pretty sure I saw the signature of five or six other beings, just here in The Den. I swear, there’s more stuff going on here than there is in either San Francisco or even LA.”

 

“What, you want your Miami vampires back?” Laura joked, and Stiles shuddered.

 

“No. Just missing Santa Cruz. Although why a college town is calmer than middle-of-nowhere Beacon Hills, I will never know. But seriously, though, anything but the fucking vampires. If I never see another vampire again in my entire life, it’ll be too fucking soon. Damn undead creepers.” Stiles shuddered, rubbing his arms. Even talking about vampires made him feel vaguely dirty.

 

“So werewolf creepers are better?” Laura grinned, seeming entirely too amused for the conversation at hand. Talia, too, seemed ready to burst out laughing any moment now.

 

Stiles rolled his eyes at them both. “I prefer when people are not creepers, you know? But yes, werewolves are better, since the only werewolf creeper I know is Peter.”

 

“Hey, I resent that!” Peter protested automatically, arms crossed defensively.

 

“No, you don’t,” Stiles pointed out, ‘cause really, he knew Peter. The guy owned his fucking creepiness, okay?

 

“Okay, I don’t,” Peter admitted after a short, glaring standoff. Well, it was more of a friendly glaring, really. Even when Peter horrified him, Stiles couldn’t really hate the guy. “It’s kind of amusing.”

 

“At least you acknowledge your own creeper nature.” Which was miles ahead of the vampires, really. Pretty much all things were miles ahead of vampires, though, in Stiles’ opinion.

 

Petter sniffed disdainfully, clearly done with the conversation. He turned to Sachiko. “Well, I don’t know about you, my dear, but I’m feeling distinctly under-appreciated. If you’re done here, would you allow me to escort you out?” He offered her his arm, posture perfect.

 

“Gladly,” Sachiko cooed, daintily placing her hand on his arm. “I do still have some work left elsewhere today, but you’re very welcome to join me.”

 

Peter grinned at her. “Sounds lovely. And you’re certainly much better company than my ungrateful family here.”

 

They all rolled their eyes at Peter’s drama queen tendencies, not feeling an ounce of guilt as he pranced off with his new playmate. Stiles secretly dreaded what kind of stuff Peter could get into with a partner in crime as scrupleless as himself. Sure, Stiles wasn’t always overly concerned with stuff like morality, but he liked to think he was a more well-adjusted and overall good person than Peter. Not, he suspected, that this was really saying much.

 

“So,” Stiles said, clapping his hands together decisively in an attempt to muster some enthusiasm. “I guess this means we’re back to square one, then.”

 

He stared at the tables and chairs still knocked over from Sachiko and Derek’s tussle. “Well, after a clean-up, I mean.”

 

Something told him this was going to be a long day. He hadn’t even had his morning coffee yet.

 

 


 

 

Down to zero suspects again, Stiles resigned himself to spending his entire day at The Den, reading stealthily on his phone bestiary while checking out the various patrons. Derek and Laura’s food suppliers had been by as well, and seemed clean. Laura had confirmed that the people who’d come by where the only ones they ever saw from said suppliers, which ruled out the possibility that they might have the culprit hidden among their coworkers.

 

Derek had been severely unhelpful and terse on the subject, leading Stiles to believe that the guy really couldn’t tell their delivery guys or supplier employees apart all that much, and was feeling kind of embarrassed about his inability to help. He’d gone into hiding in his kitchen, presumably to sulk. And cook delicious, delicious food designed to make Stiles’ brain melt. He’d just about wept at the English breakfast Derek had all but slammed on the table before retreating back to the kitchen.

 

He hadn’t intended to charge Laura and Derek for this job in the first place, but if he had, he’d have happily switched his payment from money to meals in a heartbeat.

 

But Stiles’ findings that whoever had done this apparently considered The Den as their territory in a way - combined with the suppliers now having been ruled out - basically only left the place’s regulars in the suspect pool. It was such a headache, really. Neither Derek nor Laura had been able to name any regulars they didn’t know and trust completely, which basically meant Stiles had days of spying ahead of him to see who came here often, be it for the food or drink.

 

Although personally, Stiles thought that whoever came here for the beer and not Derek’s absolutely insane cooking was an idiot. Sure, he’d reluctantly acknowledge the combined lure of alcohol and food, but the alcohol alone? No way in hell. No beer was as good as Derek’s cooking, and Stiles loved beer.

 

All too soon, Stiles stared down at his woefully empty breakfast plate, before sighing and bugging Laura for a coffee refill, settling down for a long day of people watching interspersed by reading and research. A couple of people he recognized from the day before, so he assumed they were regulars. There was also a quite frankly worrisome amount of women of all ages doing their very best to get a glimpse of an extremely elusive Derek. The guy hardly ever left the kitchen, and Stiles couldn’t really blame him, seeing how these people basically flocked to him the moment he did. From across the room, Stiles could see Derek’s jaw clenching in annoyance at all these people getting in the way of him doing his job.

 

The biggest question, though, was how none of these people apparently had anything else to do on a Friday at around noon. Didn’t they have jobs or school or whatever? That really didn’t seem too promising for Beacon Hills’ present and future economy. Stiles tried his very best not to scowl at them, no matter how badly he wanted to. They brought business cash into The Den, and he was here to help, not screw up their business by pissing off the patrons, even if they were obnoxious.

 

There were also a bunch of guys - some disturbingly old - who never seemed to look away from Laura’s cleavage. Stiles glared at them a little, ‘cause really, that was just creepy. Of course, they didn’t care, and Laura happily flirted away with them, presumably so they’d all spend way more than they probably intended. Besides, it was highly unlikely that any of these schmucks would be able to overpower her, unless they had a cattle prod, or something. Even then, they probably wouldn’t get far in any nefarious goal.

 

But still, even surreptitious checks for a supernatural signature turned up zero relevant results. Admittedly, he couldn’t do the full-on search he’d done that morning, for various reasons; mostly because it looked really suspicious, and because that kind of power use would get pretty damn draining pretty fast if he was gonna do it continuously for however many days it’d take to find the culprit.

 

Not that this was any comfort if he couldn’t even quite tell if the casual scans he did now were strong enough to actually pick up on whoever was behind this stuff. Sometimes, he really hated how imprecise a science magic was.

 

Laura’s shift ended with still absolutely zero results, and Erica and Cora took over waitressing. Derek, however, stayed gamely on in the kitchen, making Stiles vaguely wonder if he was either a machine, or if he just lived in there. It was kind of crazy. Weren’t there work laws or something against this kind of stuff?

 

Roughly three hours into Cora and Erica’s shift, Luke came in, and really? Did he eat here every day? Didn’t he cook, or bring a lunch or something? Did he really have to perpetuate every single stereotype about single male police officers?

 

Stiles smiled politely at the guy as he came in, and gave his usual nod of recognition. Luke actually grinned at him. Stiles blinked in surprise. Really, people weren’t usually this excited to see him, unless he’d known them for a long time and hadn’t seen them for a while. He had enough self insight that he knew the first impression most got from him was generally not all that flattering. And not only did the guy return the greeting, he also came over to Stiles’ table, and what? Really?

 

“Hey, Stiles. You here again, too?” he asked, leaning casually against Stiles’ booth. “Alone, even?”

 

Stiles shrugged. “Work, y’know? I’m probably gonna be here for most of their opening hours until we figure this out. It can get boring, but what can you do?”

 

“Mind if I join you? I mean, eating alone gets so depressing, right?”

 

“Yeah, I know that one,” Stiles agreed. “All my friends from back here went to different schools all around the country, and all my friends in college moved home or somewhere else, so this week is basically the first time I’ve eaten with other people in months. It’s kind of crazy. So go ahead, join me.”

 

With a grateful smile, Luke plopped down on the opposite side of Stiles’ table with an appreciative groan. He smiled sheepishly. “I don’t know if I’m in worse shape than I thought, or if I somehow underestimated the sheer amount of walking around I’d do in this job, but it’s damn good to get off of my feet.”

 

Stiles laughed a little, and leaned closer to whisper. “Well, I’m not supposed to tell anyone, but I know for a fact that the newbies get the extra physically intense beats. But don’t worry, it’ll even out soon enough. I’m pretty sure it’s a test. Like, if you can take a couple of months of really intense work, then you’ll probably be good with most things the job can throw at you. The sheriff doesn’t like wasting time and resources on people who aren’t gonna stay in the job, y’know?”

 

“That.. actually makes a disturbing amount of sense,” Luke muttered, clearly miffed that he’d been continuously hazed without even noticing. “I thought it was all this tough, and that the rest of them were just too used to it to get tired, y’know?”

 

“Well, it does instill a certain amount of awe for your superiors, doesn’t it?” Stiles pointed out with a grin. “Don’t tell my dad I told you, though. He doesn’t like it when I interfere with his schemes for his minions. Hints like these are basically how I’ve gotten all of the deputies on my side in the diet fight, though.”

 

“So being an evil mastermind runs in the family?” Luke grinned, both elbows firmly placed on the table and his face cradled on his folded hands.

 

“Well, I wouldn’t say evil, per se, we’re more masterminds for the general good? That’s a thing, right?” Because really, Stiles was all about working for good, he wasn’t the Dark Side kind of guy. Well, unless someone really deserved it.

 

“Well, it does sound slightly more reassuring, if nothing else. I’m not entirely sure how empty those reassurances are, though.” Luke picked up the menu, and tilted his head questioningly. “You ready to order?”

 

Stiles shook his head with a smile. “Nah, I generally just wait for Derek to show up with food for me. He knows what I like, and keeps better track of my meals sometimes than I do.”

 

Luke’s eyebrows shot up in disbelief, but he didn’t actually say anything out loud, for which Stiles was grateful. This place had werewolves, okay. And, well, police officers probably shouldn’t be seen talking shit about people in public. Secretly, Stiles wanted to groan, though. Of course Derek had been his regular self and glared at the cops. In fact, he was probably part of the reason Luke had found Stiles suspicious in the first place. Hah! Take that, dad!

 

“You’d be surprised, really. He may not be the most sociable person, but he cares fiercely about the people he cares about,” Stiles explained.

 

“Oh, are you related somehow, then?” Luke asked, while flipping casually through the menu. “Since you’re in his social circle, I mean.”

 

“Nah, man, I do not have good enough genes to be related to Hales, have you seen those guys?” Stiles laughed, shaking his head. “But his mom basically adopted me when I was ten, so I guess I’m technically the obnoxious kid brother?”

 

“You don’t seem inferior to the Hales in any way I can see,” Luke replied with a smirk, giving Stiles a once-over.

 

Oh. He could feel his face burning bright red. Did the guy really just-...! Damn it, he hated when his dad was right. Flustered, he tried to stammer his way through a reply, and was thankfully interrupted by Cora showing up, for some reason wearing her most murderously polite smile.

 

“Hi, what can I get for you today, sir?” she chirped cheerfully at Luke, and Stiles really just wanted to hide, because Cora never sounded like that unless she was planning to maim someone. And her eyes really weren’t smiling with the rest of her face. They were plotting murder. Stone cold murder.

 

Luke blinked at her, a complicated expression on his face. Probably confusion that she was acting differently than normal, and some embarrassment that she’d totally snuck up on him. Maybe he was worried she’d overheard? Of course, Cora could overhear him from anywhere in the pub. “I, uh, the hamburger special? With a side order of onion rings, and a ginger ale, please?”

 

Cora scribbled it down and turned to Stiles, glaring pointedly at him. He blinked up at her in confusion. What had he done? No, seriously. He’d just been minding his own business, and now a guy was flirting with him. That hardly seemed like a glare-worthy offense, especially since it was none of her business who Stiles talked to, or flirted with, should he decide to respond to Luke’s… whatever that was.

 

“And for you, Stiles?” she bit out.

 

Stiles just shrugged. “You know the drill, Cora. Ask Derek.”

 

She nodded, and stalked off with another glare. Luke chuckled as she went. “Well, looks like someone’s jealous. You sure about the sibling thing? She’s a Hale too, right?”

 

“Yeah, Laura and Derek’s sister. But, um, jealous? Yeah, no way. Cora’s been dating Isaac for years. Pretty sure it’s a for-life thing.” Stiles winced a little, and awkwardly rubbed the back of his head. How the hell had this even happened? Why was there flirting going on? His dad was going to kill him.

 

“Well, she certainly seemed angry at something,” Luke said with a smile, clearly not believing a thing Stiles was saying, and finding the entire situation hilarious. Stiles was starting to wonder if being a sadist was a hiring requirement at the Sheriff’s department. Thankfully, the guy seemed amenable to changing the subject. “So, your father said you came here for work, right? What is it you do, exactly?”

 

Oh god, had they entered date territory somehow, without Stiles noticing?

 

“I’m a consultant,” Stiles said, answering like he normally did with mundanes. Though usually, he could get away with supernatural consultant. But with someone his dad worked with? Who possibly even knew that The Den was being sabotaged, if there was a police report? This would get so awkward.

 

“Ah,” Luke replied with a sage nod. “And what kind of consulting is it you do, exactly?”

 

Stiles shrugged, his mind spinning desperately in hopes that he could come up with an explanation that would work. “Well, it depends on the case, really. I’ve built myself a contact net that means a lot of people in certain circles trust me, so I do some mediating, I do a lot of research both for myself and others, and in certain cases, I’ve got more time and resources to investigate than local law enforcement does. Through no fault of their own, of course, but, y’know, the case load is usually ridiculous, right? Me, I can spend an entire week sitting in a pub from opening ‘till closing and look for suspicious behavior. Otherwise, I teach some self defense to especially targeted groups, that kind of thing. I basically just started helping friends out, and it snowballed from there. I guess ‘consultant’ is just a fancy way of saying Jack-of-all-trades.”

 

Luke laughed out loud. “Well, we all pick up stuff and skills here and there, but not everyone can make a successful business out of it. I’m impressed! And besides, if you’re helping gathering evidence and putting bad guys behind bars - through legal means, of course - that’s a good thing, in my book.”

 

“Dude, my dad’s the Sheriff, I keep my toes firmly in line, thank you very much.”

 

“Yeah, cops’ kids usually either go in that direction, or the complete opposite. Funny how that works, really.”

 

“Hey! No stereotyping police families here,” Stiles protested with mock affront. “You’ll never get a family of your own like that.”

 

“Well, I guess you would be the authority on that,” Luke said with a wink, and oh god, this was beyond fucking flirting, okay. Stiles was pretty sure that had been a future-family-together joke. Who the hell talked about future families on a first date?! And on a stealth first date, even! Why did Stiles always get himself mixed up in these stupid situations?

 

Derek burst out of the kitchen like an avenging angel, marching over to their table with their food. Stiles hid a sigh of relief, and thanked any and all deities for the Hales’ excellent timing with the interruptions. Seriously, what the hell was he supposed to reply to that kind of thing?

 

He stared at his food instead, and blinked in surprise. His head snapped up so he could stare at an already retreating Derek instead. Quickly, Stiles grabbed his wrist so he couldn’t get away. Well, he could - werewolf strength, and all that - but it’d look awkward. Derek turned halfway back to face Stiles, his expression clearly telling him to get the fuck on with it.

 

“Dude, you made me curly fries?” he asked, still kind of awestruck. “I fucking love you, man.”

 

Derek shrugged, his ears pink with embarrassment at being caught out at being nice to someone. “You won’t shut up about them, after all. Figured it’d save me some grief.”

 

Stiles scoffed at him. “Don’t front with me, dude. You’re just naturally that sweet.” He gave Derek a painfully wide and bright grin. “Seriously, though, thanks. Totally made my day. Sitting in here all day with nothing to do was very much worth it now. Of course, helping you guys out makes it worth it anyway, but you know what I mean.”

 

With an awkward nod, Derek retreated to his kitchen, and Stiles turned back to smiling goofily at his food. Then he remembered Luke, and sheepishly looked up, to find the guy staring at him with a thoughtful expression.

 

“I get why the waitress - Cora? - was all growly now,” he muttered, and laughed a little.

 

Stiles blinked at him. “What, really? You do? Why?”

 

Luke simply shrugged. “Not my place to tell if she hasn’t.”

 

Stiles pouted at him. “I swear, I’m surrounded by sadistic people who are entirely too amused at my pain of being left out.”

 

Luke cackled loudly at him. “Well, if you were more observant, you wouldn’t have this problem.”

 

“Seriously, this feels like high school all over again,” Stiles sulked, slumping down in his seat. He aggressively grabbed one of his curly fries, and chomped down on it. And moaned.

 

Damn Derek and his delicious cooking that made it completely impossible to stay in a well-deserved sulking fit. But then again, food. It was difficult to be really angry with him for making stuff this delicious.

 

He glanced up at Luke, and the guy was staring at him, before shaking his head. “Sometimes, I wish I was more of a jerk,” he muttered, running a hand through his hair.

 

Stiles cocked his head and blinked at Luke in confusion. “Why?”

 

Luke actually burst out laughing, throwing his head back so hard Stiles was just a little bit worried that he was going to sprain something. Not that he deserved Stiles’ worry. “Wow. I’m kind of impressed at the obliviousness. And you said you did detective work sometimes? How is that going for you again?”

 

“I feel like I’m being mocked here. My detective skills are awesome, okay, 100% success rate and everything,” Stiles pointed out, quite reasonably. He was proud of his success rate, okay, he’d worked hard for it.

 

“I honestly don’t understand how that’s possible,” Luke said, looking truly baffled and not just a little amused at the mere thought.

 

“Stop talking like my dad, I’m good at what I do, okay.” Stiles crossed his arms, feeling kind of defensive. He couldn’t hold the pose for long, though, before his fries started calling to him. A shame, really; the hamburger looked really good too, but curly fries.

 

“I guess sheer stubborn persistence works, then?”

 

“Shut up,” Stiles grumbled, very much not amused. Seriously, what had happened to the flirting? When had they entered teasing territory instead? Really, being teased by a guy he’d basically just met didn’t seem fair. That was supposed to only happen from the people who’d known him for years.

 

“As you wish,” Luke replied with a grin, and started on the burger, eating with a blissed-out expression on his face. “But man, I see why you keep your friend around, his food is to die for.”

 

Stiles beamed at him, and okay, the acknowledgement of Derek’s skills gave the guy a couple of his brownie points back. “I know, right? Derek’s cooking is like the best meal you can get... well, anywhere, really.”

 

“Well, I’m not sure I’d say anywhere,” Luke said with a slight chuckle, but the giant bite he took out of his burger and the happy food groan, coupled with a blissful rolling of his eyes kind of belied his words. “I think you might be slightly biased, there.”

 

Stiles stared thoughtfully at him, before shrugging. There was a slight possibility that part of the reason he loved Derek’s cooking so much was that it was Derek’s. “Maybe just a little.”

 

“Well, at least you’re not completely oblivious.”

 

“I resent that, I really do.” Stiles gave him his very best glare. It was an awesome glare, really. Maybe not on par with werewolf glares, but pretty sweet nonetheless.

 

“I’ll make it up to you with a coffee later,” Luke suggested with a devastating smirk. It was the smirk of someone who knew how to do this shit, be flirtatious and magnetic and all of those things Stiles could only ever dream of doing. “When are you done here? I could pick you up after my shift? We still need to discuss the diet stuff, anyway.”

 

“I-... um-....” Stiles stammered, feeling like his face was on fire again. “Yeah, of course. I’m not done here until like 11pm, though, so maybe another day?”

 

Luke grinned at him, and dug out his cellphone. “Anytime. Just put in your number, okay, and I’ll text you and we’ll figure it out.”

 

Oh god. How did these things happen, really. Reluctantly, he took the phone as Luke shoved it across the table, and input his number. Luke’s hand lingered slightly over Stiles’ as he handed the phone back, and he winked. Seconds later, Stiles’ phone beeped with a new message.

 

Unknown number

(19:53) Hey, Stiles ;) Here’s my number back. Looking forward to that coffee.

 

Stiles did his very best not to meep at the message. Oh god, his dad was going to kill him. He should probably just make one of those ‘if you’re watching this, I’m dead’ videos right now, and get it over with. It wouldn’t do to have a murderer as the Sheriff, after all, no matter how much he loved his dad and how good the guy was at his job.

 

But then again, his dad kind of deserved it, if he actually did commit filicide.

 

He smiled awkwardly at Luke, and stuffed his face to prevent himself from saying something painfully stupid. He was afraid of what his mouth might come up with, considering the way his brain was way too messed up right now to exercise any kind of control over it. Luke turned back to his burger as well.

 

Seriously, fuck his life.

 

 


 

 

Stiles groaned at his cell phone alarm the next morning, wondering how the hell Derek did this kind of thing every day. Seriously, how? Stiles was dead, and all he’d done was sit in a pub booth all day. Derek had been cooking all along.

 

The depressing lack of results and anything happening whatsoever was also extremely discouraging.

 

Whimpering a little at the lack of sleep, he thumped out of his bed.

 

“Ow,” he muttered, cradling the elbow he’d smacked entirely too hard on the floor. He crawled reluctantly towards the shower, not even bothering to get up from the floor. He got to the hallway, and almost crashed into his dad’s legs. Sleepily, he blinked up at him, and the complete lack of pity on his face.

 

“Son, please tell me you’re not actually this pathetic,” he muttered, shaking his head.

 

Stiles just whined at him. “‘s early.”

 

“I have no idea how you function on your own as an adult, I really don’t. C’mon, up you get.” His dad made absolutely no move to help Stiles up, just stared at him disapprovingly. It was strangely effective.

 

Reluctantly, Stiles went bipedal, and shambled towards the bathroom. “You’re a cruel slavedriver,” he muttered before closing the door after him. He could hear his dad laugh through the door.

 

“I’m heading out, kid. Talk to you later.”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Stiles muttered back, before raising his voice. “Take care out there!”

 

“You too, son,” his dad called back as he walked down the stairs and headed for the front door.

 

Groaning at Teh Early, Stiles slumped against the wall, and slid sideways towards the shower to turn it on.

 

Why had he come back again? Seriously, even the Hales weren’t worth this. Probably.

 

An hour later, he was outside The Den again, and he froze the minute he got out of his car, blinking at the place. He rubbed his eyes, shook his head, and stared some more.

 

Every single window was broken, glass shattered in a billion pieces all over the sidewalk and the window booths. Stiles could feel his jaw drop in shock.

 

“What the actual hell,” he muttered, and quickly grabbed his bag. He’d fucking find the asshole who’d done this if it was the last thing he ever did.

 

Derek came practically flying through the front door, staring wildly at him. “Stiles!” he snapped. “Don’t come any closer, there’s glass everywhere.”

 

Stiles fixed him with his best ‘bitch please’ look. “Yes, I can see that, Derek. It’s kind of hard to miss. Do you have surveillance cameras or something? Maybe they caught them on tape.”

 

“Surveillance cameras, great idea,” Derek growled at him. “Hours of footage fucked up by our eyes. We should probably upload that shit on youtube, too, with a calling card for hunters to come by.”

 

“...right,” Stiles muttered sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head, while looking thoughtfully around. “Okay, hang on. Um, you just work on fixing this and getting The Den ready for business, okay? I’ll catch the asshole that did this, don’t worry.”

 

Derek gave him a thoughtful look. “Just.. thanks, Stiles.”

 

“Haven’t we been over this already, dude? Anything for you, man,” he replied with a smile. Derek simply stared at him, before shaking his head and heading back into The Den, presumably to make the necessary calls and whatever for clean-up and replacing the windows.

 

Stiles dug out his phone and dialled his dad.

 

“Stiles,” his dad answered with a sigh. “I saw you less than an hour ago. How much trouble can you have possibly gotten into in that time?”

 

“Hey, I’ll have you know I’m totally calling for official police business,” Stiles protested indignantly. His dad changed tracks immediately.

 

“What happened, are you okay, kid?”

 

“I’m fine, dad. It’s just, someone completely vandalized The Den, every single window’s been smashed in. I doubt there’s gonna be any, like, forensic evidence or stuff around here, but could you send someone around to take a statement from Derek and report this? It’s better to have all this stuff in place, you know, for when we catch the dickhead.”

 

“Language,” his dad pointed out sternly. “But yeah, I’ll send someone over to take care of it.”

 

“Thanks, dad. I’ll, uh, work this through my channels in the meantime.”

 

His dad snorted. “You don’t sound remotely as professional and suave as you think you do when you say that, you know.”

 

“Shut up, dad. You’re just biased because you’ve seen me in diapers, or whatever. I’m perfectly suave and cool.”

 

“You really, really aren’t,” his dad replied with a laugh. “But stop arguing with me, and go do your job instead, and let me do mine. Don’t worry, kid, we’ll figure this out one way or another. Promise.”

 

Stiles swallowed around the sudden lump in his throat. “Thanks, dad. It’s just… you should see this place. I mean, I knew stuff was happening already, but this is different. It’s a lot of damage, you know? And this much glass is pretty dangerous. And I know how hard Laura and Derek have worked for this place. It just sucks that someone would want to ruin that.”

 

“I know, kid. And I get that you want to protect them, that they’re family. But don’t go off the rails, okay? You do this the right way, and you do it carefully. You’re not gonna get hurt over this. That’s not something Laura or Derek wants, trust me. They’d rather see their pub trashed a thousand times over seeing you get hurt, trust me on this.”

 

Well, he wasn’t entirely sure Derek felt that way, but still. The sentiment alone warmed Stiles’ heart. “Thanks, dad. Promise I’ll be careful, okay? I’ll be calm, no rash behaviour or anything. It’s just… this entire situation is really shitty, and I hate it.”

 

“I know. Now go hang up and do your job.”

 

Stiles chuckled a little. “Yes sir!” he said, and did a mock salute, despite the fact that his dad couldn’t see him. He hung up, and carefully catalogued his surroundings. He smirked cheerfully as he found what he was looking for.

 

Just because The Den didn’t have security cameras didn’t mean that the surrounding enterprises didn’t. And he would visit every single one of them, if that’s what it took to find video evidence. And if that didn’t work…

 

Well, there was always the odd spell he could try.

 

 


 

 

 

It took him five stores - all of which were all too happy to help out when they heard it was for The Den - to find one with a camera angled just so, catching The Den’s front and parking lot, and then an hour or so of fast forwarding to find crappy, blurry footage of two guys driving up in beat-up old Datsun Cherry and run out and start smashing windows with crowbars.

 

He couldn’t really see their faces all that well, and he only got a partial plate of the car, but it was a start. In fact, with how little traffic there generally was in Beacon Hills at 3:30 am, he was pretty sure he could follow the car’s path through town on the various security cameras. He kind of wondered why the saboteur had changed his M.O., though, from magical to physical attacks. Maybe they’d gotten frustrated with the lack of results because of the protective wards?

 

And that was another thing; why hadn’t Stiles’ magic sensed that there were two of them? Usually, magic signatures were distinct enough that telling different people apart was fairly easy, even if they were the same type of being, especially if you looked as closely as Stiles had in his first survey of The Den.

 

Really, it was hard to come up with any logical explanation for it. Well, except twins, maybe? But then again, judging by the blurry surveillance camera footage he had, the two guys were of differing height and build, and definitely not the identical twins they would have to be to even have a shot at having magical signatures close enough they could meld together and be indistinguishable from each other. Maybe there was some kind of perspective thing going on with the tape that Stiles hadn’t noticed, who even knew.

 

Still, with the new evidence, and a rough timeline, he went back to the previous stores, and spent pretty much the rest of his day visiting every single business in Beacon Hills that had surveillance cameras, and checking out their footage.

 

It was kind of ridiculous, really, how forthcoming everybody was when they heard the reason why - after the tenth place or so, he didn’t even have to ask anymore, they just shoved him towards the tapes and told him to catch the bastards. It was enough to bring a tear to your eye, really.

 

Stiles loved small town life.

 

But he still didn’t get any clear footage of their faces, or anything more than the general direction they’d gone in. Still, a car that distinctive, in a town as small as Beacon Hills?

 

It really didn’t take all that much.

 

Which was why Stiles was sitting smugly in his Jeep in the parking lot of the really seedy motel on the edge of town, rolling his eyes a little at how cliché it all was. Still, the car was there - he could tell from the crazy dent on the left side of the bumper, and the license plate matching the partial he’d got off of the video that it was definitely the right one - and Stiles was a badass fucking detective, okay? Up yours, Luke Thompson.

 

He called his dad.

 

“You do realize it’s 2 a.m. and I have to get up for work in four hours, right?” his dad answered with, not even bothering with a hello. “Also, where the hell are you, kid?”

 

“In a parking lot, right behind the car used by the assholes trashing The Den, along with video evidence of the entire thing,” he retorted smugly, chewing on three Red Vines at once. The 2 a.m. thing kind of explained why he’d so desperately needed sugar to keep going. Huh.

 

His dad groaned at him. “And why is this evidence with you instead of with one of my deputies, where it belongs? Not to mention, what the hell are you thinking, going after them like this? I thought I told you to do this the safe way and the right way!”

 

“I had to find them, dad! I only knew vaguely where they’d gone!” Stiles protested. “Besides, I haven’t even left my car, or anything, I’ve been good, I swear!”

 

“Stiles, I keep telling you, if you want to do the cops’ job, then get a damn badge. I thought you said you were going through your channels. Last I checked, video evidence was not magic, and therefore our job, not yours.” There was a faint rustling as his dad presumably got back up again. “I’m calling the station, and we’ll be right there, okay? Don’t you move an inch, or I swear, I’ll throw you in a cell as well. I’m sure I can find something to charge you with.”

 

“Is that the way to treat your only son?” Stiles shot back in mock indignation. He knew his dad wouldn’t actually arrest him. Well, he was pretty sure, anyway.

 

“It is when he’s being a total shit,” his dad grumbled. “Now stay put until I can get people out to you. What parking lot, exactly, are we talking about?”

 

“Yes, sir,” Stiles muttered dejectedly, grabbing a couple of more vines. “I’m out at Leo’s Palace.”

 

“Oh god, Stiles! What have I told you about that place?!” His dad sounded absolutely horrified, and the rustling got louder, accompanied now by thumping as he immediately speeded up getting ready and getting out.

 

“To ‘never ever set foot in that place or the surrounding area, no matter what’?” Stiles recited dutifully, wincing a little. Surely this was an exception, though. Besides, he was twenty-three years old. Childhood rules like that had to stop being relevant at some point, right? Like, when you moved out and became a proper, tax-paying adult?

 

“Then can you please explain to me what, exactly, both your feet, and your Jeep, and my evidence, are all doing over there?”

 

“It was an emergency, dad! Besides, it’s my evidence if it’s anybody’s! I found it!”

 

“You are so grounded.”

 

“You can’t ground me, I’m a legal adult!” Stiles protested.

 

“Who’s currently living in my house. Watch me, kid,” he retorted, and hung up. Stiles stared at his phone in disbelief. Damn it, way to make him feel like a kid again. It was like he was reminded all over again why he usually stayed away unless he had to come back; everybody always made him feel all of thirteen years old, all over again.

 

He missed Santa Cruz, where people respected him, and thought he was a pretty cool guy.

 

Sighing, he brushed his hands along his steering wheel, and dropped his head down on them. The smug satisfaction from earlier at finally having caught the asshole saboteurs had disappeared completely.

 

He hadn’t been that rash, right?

 

Mentally berating himself, it hardly even felt like minutes had passed before several patrol cars silently rolled into the lot on either side of his Jeep. Quietly, he slid out, and passed the tapes to a worried-looking Deputy Green.

 

“It’s the beat-up Datsun Cherry over there,” Stiles muttered, violently shoving his hands into his jean pockets. “I figured, they’d know at the counter who it belongs to, right? Or you can stake it out until the owners show up for it, or something?”

 

Deputy Green flashed him a quick smile, and grabbed his shoulder for a firm squeeze. “You did good, Stiles. Your father’s just ridiculously worried about you. You’re all he’s got, y’know?”

 

“Yeah, I know,” he mumbled, looking down as he kicked at stray cigarette butts.

 

‘Why don’t you head on home, and we’ll take it from here, okay?”

 

Stiles’ head snapped up, and he stared at her, and shook his head. “Oh, no way. I’m staying here until those jerks are in cuffs.”

 

They had magic, okay? Or were at least supernatural somehow. There was no possible way he was leaving that shit up to a couple of his dad’s deputies who didn’t even know the supernatural was a thing. Oh god, the thought alone made him nauseated.

 

“Stiles-”

 

“I’ll stay in my car okay?” he interrupted her. “Whatever it takes, but I’m not leaving until I’m sure we’ve got them.”

 

Deputy Green huffed loudly and shook her head with a slight smile. “I guess stubbornness runs in the family, huh?”

 

Stiles grinned crookedly at her, tugging at his shirt so he could brush his fingers against his tattoo and harness the flare of power. “Didn’t you know? We’ve got stubbornness instead of blood in our veins.”

 

He grabbed her uniform sleeve and willed his magic to listen, protect, keep safe those it could recognize nearby wearing the same. It wouldn’t last for long, or be all that strong, but with the magic levels he’d seen at The Den, it should be enough. Hopefully, anyway. “Be careful in there, okay?”

 

She smiled at him, and squeezed his hand back. “What, you think we’re rash like you, Stiles? Don’t worry, this is our job, and we’re trained for it. Heroics are for people who aren’t just doing this for the paycheck.”

 

“You’re sounding remarkably cynical for a servant of the law, protector of all that is good, et cetera and so forth,” he joked at her with a raised eyebrow.

 

“You’ve been watching way too much TV, kid,” Deputy Green snorted at him. “Now get in your car and leave this to the professionals.”

 

Shivering a little, he went back into his car, blowing hot air on his fingers. There was a distinct possibility that he hadn’t really dressed for night temperatures when he left that morning.

 

But then again, he hadn’t really expected to be working until close to 3am, either. Grabbing some more sugar from his stash - he couldn’t actually remember buying most of it, really - he settled down as much as he could to watch the deputies spread out and vaguely surround the building as Green and her partner - Stiles wanted to nickname him Brown, or some other colour, but his name was actually Fitzgerald - went for the motel office to speak with the owner, or whatever lackey he had manning the desk at night.

 

Amusingly enough, none of the people working there were called Leo, as far as Stiles knew.

 

Minutes later, his dad’s patrol car slinked stealthily into the parking lot, and Stiles waved at him from his seat.

 

The look he got in return went from relieved to sternly telling Stiles there would be Words later in about three seconds, before he got a quick status update from the nearest deputy, and went to join Green and Fitzgerald in the office.

 

What felt like seconds later, they all came back out with a somewhat nervous-looking motel employee, and headed for the far end room of the first floor.

 

Stiles couldn’t stop his leg from jiggling so hard it made his keys jangle constantly, anymore than he could stop chewing nervously on his shirt sleeve. Watching his dad walk towards a situation that would probably be dangerous as fuck, and not being able to do a single fucking thing to help was torture. He was pretty sure there wasn’t a single thing in the world that could feel worse than this, and he just wanted to scream.

 

Deputy Green knocked, a hand on her gun holster, and waited. And waited. Everything seemed to move like molasses, and the door was opened, painstakingly slowly, and a startled guy poked his head out, and at Deputy Green’s gesture opened the door completely. Stiles kept waiting for something to happen, had a hand on the door handle to jump out and rain fire and lightning down on the suspects if he had to, if anything happened to his dad. He didn’t even care that the kind of destruction he was imagining wasn’t something his magic was really made for, and that even trying would probably kill him. It was better than his dad getting hurt.

 

But…

 

Nothing. He stared numbly as Deputies Green and Fitzgerald calmly led two men out of the room, had them face the wall to pat them down, and then cuff them, leading them stumbling towards the patrol cars. The expression of shock Stiles could feel on his own face was mirrored in the faces of the two suspects, as if they hadn’t even dreamed of getting caught. As if police attention was the last thing they had possibly imagined could happen.

 

What?

 

Where was the magic? The violence and the attempts at escaping? How had this gone so smoothly?

 

Stiles gaped at them as they were put in the back of the patrol cars, and his dad came over to knock on his window for him to roll it down.

 

“See? Everything went just fine. Head on home, why don’t you? Get some sleep, and all that. The rest is police work now, so take a few days to rest, okay? At home, of course, seeing as you’re grounded.”

 

“Daaad,” Stiles groaned in protest, huffing indignantly. “Seriously, I’m really not a kid anymore.”

 

“I’ll believe that when you act like it,” his dad snorted. “Now go sleep. Seeing as you so cruelly robbed me of mine.”

 

“Hey! I was doing my civic duty and stuff, getting dangerous criminals off the streets!”

 

“Couldn’t you have done it at a more sane time of day?” At Stiles’ affronted expression, he laughed. “Just some friendly teasing, son. I’m grateful, you know that. Just trying to keep my boy out of danger.”

 

“You better be,” Stiles retorted, scowling as he started the Jeep and headed out of there.

 

This… was it. His job was done, it had taken way less time than expected, meaning Stiles was awesome. And he could leave Beacon Hills. No more stressing out over hopeless crushes, or being treated like a child.

 

So why did it feel like his stomach was stress-eating itself?

 

 


 

 

Stiles tossed and turned for a couple of hours before giving the entire sleep thing up as a bust. Since he apparently wasn’t going to get any sleep anyway, he might as well spend his time more productively. Like, say, using passwords he was totally supposed to have, what are you talking about to access his dad’s computer, and check, y’know, a couple of files and stuff.

 

He loved how digitalized police work had become, since it meant there were already mugshots of the two saboteurs uploaded that he could totally nab and send discreetly around to his contacts, to see if anyone knew these guys.

 

In Stiles’ experience, people who targeted the supernatural once had usually done it before. It wasn’t that big of a community, after all, and the odds of finding and targeting someone from it on accident were… miniscule.

 

There wasn’t much else in the file, except the details of the arrest and the charges, so if the interviews had gotten them anywhere, they hadn’t put it in the databases yet.

 

So, with nothing else useful he could do, Stiles got dressed in the first clothes he found, and headed over to The Den to share the good news. Well, provided they’d managed to clear the glass up the day before and were open for business again.

 

The answer was apparently ‘not really’, and Stiles’ heart ached at the sight of the place. The Den wasn’t supposed to look like this, like a sad shell of itself. It was supposed to be gorgeous and cozy and all things nice. Instead, all the windows were boarded up with ugly plywood. With a sigh, he got out of the car, and checked the door, finding it open. Laura was sitting at the counter, cursing at the paperwork she was doing.

 

Stiles walked over and flopped on her back in a half-hearted hug. “Hey, Laura.”

 

“Hey, Stiles.” She offered a weak smile over her shoulder. “I swear, I am going to kill whoever did this. Do you have any idea how much of a headache the insurance for this shit is? Not to mention the lost profits of having to keep the place closed for days. Why couldn’t they have done this on a fucking weekday, at least? Getting emergency replacement glass for six whole windows in Beacon Hills on a weekend? Is pretty much impossible. I could barely get someone to come out here and take measurements and board it up.”

 

“Well, I guess I’ve got good and bad news for you, then,” Stiles said with a wince. “I, uh, I found them? But they’ve been arrested, so killing them will be tricky.”

 

Derek slammed out of the kitchen, but he lost most of the intimidation points of his angry scowl due to the giant mug of hot chocolate and equally giant muffin he was carrying, presumably to cheer Laura up through appealing to her sweet tooth, since Derek wasn’t really a fan of sweet stuff himself.

 

“What,” he snapped, setting the sweet goodies down in front of Laura so his arms were free to cross menacingly.

 

“They got caught on tape, wrecking your windows,” Stiles explained. “So we’ve got evidence, too.”

 

“Wait. How does them getting caught on tape lead to them being identified and arrested like a day and a half later?” Laura interrupted, before she took a giant bite out of her muffin. Stiles could tell excitement was simmering, but she wasn’t quite ready to believe yet. “I thought catching someone on tape didn’t help jack shit unless you have the identity, or something? Also, what tape? It’s not like we’ve got cameras.”

 

Stiles shrugged. “No, but your neighbours do. And from there, all I had to do was follow them on the security cameras all across town to narrow down the search, and then find their car.”

 

Derek and Laura both stared at him incredulously, with Laura actually gaping. He suspected Derek would’ve been too, but his jaw muscles didn’t work that way.

 

“Security cameras all across-... Did you seriously-... Exactly how much footage are we talking here? And it’s a them? As in, plural?”

 

“Two guys, yeah. And I’m not sure? I found them a couple of hours ago, though. My dad’ll know, I woke him up when I called.”

 

Laura squealed and leapt up to gather Stiles in a crushing hug. “Oh my god, thank you! How did you even-... You’re a fucking magician, I swear!”

 

“I prefer mage, really,” he shot back with a little snicker as he returned the hug at a slightly more reasonable strength.

 

“Shut up, you,” she mock growled, but she was too close to laughing for it to sound threatening. “I was already thinking this would take weeks to figure out, and then the stupid window thing happened, and now… Oh man, I’m gonna sue the hell out of those fuckers, I swear.”

 

“Well, I already circulated their mugshots through my channels to see if anyone else has any grievances against them. Because I want to slam these guys with the most crap I possibly can.”

 

Laura cackled, clearly pleased by this, but was interrupted by Derek. “Stiles, did you… eat anything yesterday? Did you sleep at all?”

 

“I’m not sure? I was kind of in the zone, so I can’t really remember much beyond surveillance camera footage. So very many tapes of footage. And I was kind of wired after the arrest, so I didn’t really get any sleep, I think.” Stiles shrugged, and then gaped at Derek’s affronted frown.

 

“Sit down somewhere,” Derek demanded gruffly. “I’m gonna-... just sit.”

 

And without a single word more, he disappeared into the kitchen. Stiles gaped at him. “What the hell was that supposed to be?”

 

Laura chuckled. “Just my baby bro’s awkward way of showing he cares. He doesn’t like you running yourself ragged, or not eating, or any of that stuff. Be prepared for the biggest meal of your life, Stiles. And quite possibly forced naps.”

 

Of course, his brain went immediately to how Derek could possibly enforce nap-taking, and the only method Stiles could really come up with involved aggressive spooning and cuddles. His face burned at the mental image, and he had to do his best not to drool.Oh god, yes please. Sure, he’d die from embarrassment and sexual frustration if it actually happened, but it was a nice fantasy anyway.

 

“I see you’re getting the right idea,” Laura said, grinning as she poked Stiles’ bright red cheeks. He shoved her hand out of his face with a huff.

 

“Shut up. I’m so totally not,” he muttered, and slumped onto the counter to hide his face until he could get it under control again.

 

Derek came back out of the kitchen with more giant muffins, and a big mug of coffee that tapped against the counter right in front of where Stiles was trying not to die of mortification. “I’ll make some proper food, but eat that for now.”

 

Stiles sat up and eyed the cluster of muffins. “Uh. Pretty sure just these are more than even I can eat on a good day.”

 

“You can’t just eat sugar, Stiles, you need actual, nutritious food, or you’re gonna crash in like two hours, tops,” Derek said with his trademark impatient glare. “But eat.”

 

“I’m getting kind of unwanted Hansel and Gretel vibes here, which is totally uncool. I don’t wanna have to shove you into your own oven, for one. You’re not planning on eating me, right?” Stiles said with a suspicious glare, before blinking. “Wait, I’m mixing my fairytales, you’re supposed to be the big bad wolf, right? I mean, I’m the witch here, technically. Except, I don’t eat children, yuck.”

 

Stiles stared at Laura, who for some reason seemed like she was trying her very best not to expire from laughing too hard. He turned to Derek with a questioning look. Not that he really expected an explanation from that quarter. Explaining things wasn’t really Derek’s specialty. Especially not when he was doing the clenched jaw murderous look. Crap. Fairytale jokes were a bit too much, maybe?

 

“Sorry,” he mumbled, and chomped into his muffin.

 

“Why are-...” Derek said, but paused to sigh in annoyance. “Never mind. Eat. I’ll be back.”

 

He disappeared into the kitchen without another word, and Stiles muttered sulkily. “Oh, so you’re Terminator now? Well, at least you’ve got the strength down, and you don’t come out badly in a body-slash-muscle comparison thing with Schwarzenegger.”

 

There was a loud crash from the kitchen, and Laura fell off her chair laughing. Shit, Derek totally heard that, of course he did. Stiles winced a little. He could feel his face burning again.

 

“Learn to take a compliment, dude,” he called out, much louder than necessary out of spite.

 

“Shut up, Stiles,” Derek yelled back, sounding oddly strangled.

 

Still snickering, Laura clawed her way upright and back onto her chair. She paused for a second to wipe tears of mirth, and then started up again. “Oh man, thank you, Stiles, I really needed that. This whole window thing’s had me angry, annoyed, and sad for way too long, especially on top of the other sabotage. It feels good to laugh again.”

 

“I don’t get what’s so funny,” Stiles replied with a shrug and another bite of muffin. “But, uh, you’re welcome, I guess.”

 

“The fact that you don’t get it is probably the funniest part,” Laura said with a giant grin. She grabbed a pen to start back up on her paperwork.

 

“You’re such a meaniewolf.”

 

“Y’know, adding ‘wolf’ to an insult when you’re calling us names isn’t really all that clever,” she retorted, and stole one of Stiles’ muffins, since her own was long gone by now. He protested on reflex, because Derek’s cooking, even though he knew he wouldn’t be able to eat them all, much less whatever else Derek was cooking up.

 

Stiles narrowed his eyes in a warning glare. “Be nice, or I won’t help you guys if something like this happens again.”

 

“Yes, you will,” Laura said with a pointed look to the kitchen and, well, Derek. Stiles sighed in defeat.

 

“Yeah, I will,” he admitted, giving the kitchen a longing look. Laura patted his back with werewolf strength and an evil cackle. Stiles coughed a bit at the sheer force of it.

 

Derek chose that moment to return from the kitchen, with an impressive number of plates stacked on his arms. Stiles stared as he put them down on the counter, then gaped up at Derek. “How did you make all this so fast?”

 

Derek shifted awkwardly, the tips of his ears turning slightly pink. Laura snickered some more.

 

“He was stress cooking even before you came, obviously,” she explained with the biggest shit-eating grin Stiles had ever seen. Derek growled at her.

 

Stiles stared in confusion down at the plates. Sweet potato fries in the most perfect golden colour Stiles had ever seen, glistening slightly with oil and coarse salt; a smaller version of Derek’s mind-meltingly good bruschetta, smelling enticingly of garlic and topped with gravity-defying amounts of diced tomatoes and mozzarella, and all of it drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette and pesto; tiny bowls of what Stiles really hoped was spicy shepherd’s pie; garlic chicken wings with a crisp to die for - Stiles wouldn’t be able to even breathe in the same room as anyone else after this, and oh god, was that hummus? Stiles loved hummus, but he was pretty sure he’d never seen it at The Den before. Anyway, Stiles was clearly about to enter a carb coma and die.

 

“But,” Stiles pointed out hesitantly, and he could just about feel his own frown. “These are all my favourites.”

 

“Shut up, Stiles, all food is your favourite,” Derek said, still sounding kinda growly as he crossed his arms. Stiles paused to think about it, and okay, yeah, when talking Derek’s cooking, that was basically true. “Now get back to eating.”

 

“Bossywolf,” Stiles muttered, undeterred by Laura’s claim that adjective+wolf wasn’t a valid insult. He grabbed a fork and knife to cut into the bruschetta, carefully sliding the piece through both the vinaigrette and the pesto, before glancing up at Derek with a sigh. “It’s kinda hard to eat when you’re looming like that. Could you please sit down?”

 

He patted the seat next to his own, and Derek blinked, clearly surprised. Although what he could possibly find surprising about that request, Stiles didn’t know.

 

Still, Derek did as he was told and came around the counter to settle on the neighbouring seat. Stiles smiled gratefully at him, and got an odd look in return. Hesitantly, Derek raised an arm and ever so carefully - barely even touching - rubbed Stiles’ head. Stiles leaned into the touch, beaming brightly, because Derek was touching him voluntarily, okay, it was kind of a big deal.

 

And it was also kind of nostalgic. Sure, Derek had never been among the most physically demonstrative wolves Stiles knew, but there had still been a certain amount of touch going on, way back when they were kids.

 

Derek huffed, his lips twitching ever so slightly. “Sometimes, you act more wolf than I do.”

 

“You should act wolfier, then,” Stiles said with a grin. “Besides, it’s perfectly human to enjoy physical contact.”

 

“Whatever you say. Now wolf down your food like the wannabe you are, so I can put you to bed.”

 

Stiles was torn between grinning like a madman at Derek making a wolf joke, and dying from the images his brain produced at the thought of Derek putting him to bed. He made an in-between strangled noise, and focused on his food, ignoring how Laura was snickering at him.

 

“Neither of you are as funny as you think you are,” he muttered, then took a bite and whimper-moaned in pleasure. Damn, the mere thought of being able to eat at The Den every day was tempting enough Stiles almost wanted to consider moving back to Beacon Hills.

 

He glanced at Derek, who was looking away for some reason, the weirdo. Of course, moving back permanently would mean dying from Derek Hale-induced sexual frustration.

 

He was probably better off in Santa Cruz.

 

 


 

 

Derek wouldn’t even let him drive home, but instead bullied Stiles into napping on the cot in the back room of The Den, with threats that if Stiles didn’t stay put and sleep, Derek would happily hold him down until he did.

 

As incredibly tempting an offer that was, Stiles knew his brain and body well enough to see what a terrible and awkward idea that would be, so he did as he was told. When he was safely out of sniffing distance, though, he fully intended to make healthy use of those images.

 

He woke up, kind of groggy, some undeterminable time later, and stumbled out of the cot, towards the front. The restaurant itself was empty, but he found Derek in the kitchen, apparently still stress cooking.

 

Stiles wondered who the hell was going to eat all that food. Then he remembered werewolf appetites and exactly how many Hales there were, and figured his worries were unfounded.

 

“Hey,” Stiles greeted, and smiled when Derek turned around to face him. “Thanks for the food and sleep and all. I… probably really needed that.”

 

“Stiles, you only slept for four hours, you sure you’re okay?”

 

Stiles nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine. Pretty sure I won’t get any more sleep right now, anyway. Did you, uh, did you stay here because of me? I mean, since Laura apparently went home, or whatever?”

 

“It’s fine, Stiles,” Derek said, shaking his head. “I needed the time alone in the kitchen anyway.”

 

“Still, sorry for chaining you here.”

 

Derek let out a loud sigh, and walked over to where Stiles was leaning against the door frame, fixing him with a serious look. “You wore yourself out for us, and you caught the guys responsible,” he said firmly, and ran a hand over Stiles’ hair, still hesitant, but less so than he had been earlier, before the nap. “It’s literally the least I could do.”

 

“Well, not really,” Stiles pointed out logically, kind of amazed that he was still capable of logic after the whole touching thing. “Technically, I mean. It’s not like I was expecting anything, I would’ve done this even if you refused to even talk to me.”

 

Derek smirked, but it seemed oddly sad. “Because Laura is your favourite babysitter.”

 

“Well, she’s the only one who lasted more than two days, for one,” Stiles pointed out with a snort. He’d never actually, y’know, admit it out loud, but he’d been kind of obnoxious as a kid. Plus, with the whole untapped magic ADHD thing and trauma-induced early manifestation - Deaton’s fancy terms still cracked him up - it really was no wonder that normal, human babysitters couldn’t keep up with him.

 

“Hey, I babysat you too, you know,” Derek said with a shaky smile, aiming for a joking tone, but for some reason falling short. Stiles’ heart sank.

 

“Oh,” he muttered, feeling small. “I never thought of you as a babysitter, y’know? I thought you were my friend. But then again, what kind of fourteen-year-old voluntarily hangs out with an eight year old kid, right?”

 

“I-... It’s not like-...” Derek tried, before clacking his jaw shut and huffing through his nose. “I hung out with you because I felt bad about Laura flaking out on you and your dad all the time. But mostly, I did it ‘cause it was fun. I just never had any friends outside the family, I guess, so…”

 

Stiles swallowed thickly, and dared a small smirk. “What, you weren’t sure what qualified as friends?”

 

Derek shrugged with an awkward toss of his head. It was probably as much of an admission as Stiles was going to get. Throwing caution to the wind, Stiles went for a hug.

 

“You don’t have to qualify for friendship, Derek,” he muttered against Derek’s shoulder. “It’s enough to simply enjoy someone’s company. That’s all it takes.”

 

Stiles all but purred as Derek slowly put his arms around him and hugged back. Not even really thinking about it, Stiles rubbed his face slowly against Derek’s neck, before pulling back enough to look up at him. “Hey, do you know where my bag went? I wanna check my phone to see if anyone’s gotten back to me about those mugshots.”

 

Derek rolled his eyes, slowly sliding his arms down Stiles’ arms and back as he let go. “It’s out in the restaurant, behind the counter. Next to the register?”

 

“Thanks.” Stiles gave him a quick grin, and headed for his bag and phone. ‘Five new messages’, it informed him, and he smirked at it, quickly unlocking it to read. The smirk dropped quickly at the first message, and frantically, he flipped to the next one, and the next, and the next.

 

His loud cursing was interrupted by Derek following him into the restaurant. “What’s wrong?”

 

“The two guys we got?” he said, and paused for Derek’s acknowledging nod before continuing. “They’re hunters, apparently. Which means the magic sabotage probably wasn’t them. Which explains the sudden M.O. change from magical attacks to physical. Which means-... fuck, I need to go down to the station to make sure. Damn it, I was so sure I had them.”

 

“Calm down, Stiles,” Derek said, coming over to hug him from behind, and damn, if that didn’t feel good. “You got the people behind the window thing in less than 24 hours, you’ll find the saboteur, too.”

 

Stiles leaned back into the warmth of Derek’s body with a hollow laugh, placing a hand on the forearm across his chest. “I just hope I can find them in time, before anyone gets hurt.”

 

“You will,” Derek said firmly and Stiles had to smile. If anyone had told him before he’d come back to Beacon Hills that Derek would be the one giving the single most encouraging comment he’d gotten since he’d arrived, Stiles would’ve laughed in their face. And yet, here he was.

 

“Thanks,” he mumbled, feeling his cheeks heat.

 

“You’re welcome, Stiles,” Derek replied, voice as low as Stiles’, and right in his ear. He shivered just a little, and squeezed Derek’s arm.

 

 


 

 

Getting his magic on at the Sheriff’s office to check out the supposed hunters without anyone noticing anything weird was surprisingly tricky. Of course, Stiles was a master of tricky, and soon found out that the two window-smashing suspects were 100% human in addition to being 100% douchebag. Never mind that percentages didn’t really add up that way, according to what little Stiles remembered from Calc.

 

But knowing there was a second culprit out there meant Stiles still had work to do, so he gave his dad the info he’d gotten from his contacts, and headed back out. Not that there was really much he could do until The Den opened up again. It seemed like the only way he’d get this saboteur was if he caught them in the act, since everything else had failed so far. He didn’t have enough info to narrow down the type of creature, and there weren’t enough traces in The Den for a dousing or scrying attempt...

 

Stiles really did hate feeling useless.

 

The only thing he could do, really, was catch up on some sleep.

 

 


 

 

Stiles had almost a full 24 hours of being wonderfully productive in the form of sleep, skyping Scott - including a short session with Allison and little Melanie - and generally vegging around like a waste of space until he got a text from Laura telling him they now had windows, and were back in business. There was even a smiley.

 

So he grabbed the shower he hadn’t really bothered with before, when he hadn’t expected to even step outside the house at any point during the day, and headed over for a new stakeout. Not that he really expected anything to happen today, since a) the place had been quiet during what little of the weekend they managed to be open, and b) it would probably take a while for people to realize The Den was open again, and start trickling back in.

 

Apparently, he realized as he barely managed to find parking, he’d underestimated the Beacon Hills rumour mill. He entered The Den, and his jaw just about dropped. The place was almost full. Sure, it was roughly lunchtime, but still; he’d never seen this many people in here. He found a free seat by the counter, and smiled at Laura and Cora. Erica came bursting out of the kitchen balancing three plates of delicious-looking food, so he waved at her too as she walked by. She winked at him in return.

 

Wow, they’d even brought in the reinforcements, huh. “Business is booming, huh?” he asked Laura when she finally got a free moment.

 

She laughed loudly. “Yeah, apparently everybody eating here is their way of showing support, I guess? It’s kind of awesome.”

 

“That’s Beacon Hills for you,” Stiles agreed with a nod. “I guess I’m not actually surprised, seeing how helpful everybody were when I was trying to figure out who did it.”

 

“Thanks again for that, by the way.”

 

Stiles shrugged a single shoulder. “Derek tell you the bad news? About the unter-hay duo?”

 

Laura nodded, leaning on the counter. Maybe even werewolves got achy feet from a couple of hours of busy waitressing. “You confirmed it, then?”

 

“Yeah. So I guess we’re back to square one on the sabotage. Again. You have no idea how much I want to punch whoever this is for being so damn impossible to catch. Well, in addition to being a sabotaging dick, of course.”

 

“Pretty sure you’d have to get in line,” Laura said, and her smile was distinctly evil. “Now let me get Derek to make you some food before I dive back into work.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

Stiles watched as Laura poked her head into the kitchen to yell at Derek, before joining Cora and Erica in bustling about at a terrifying - one might almost say superhuman - pace.

 

With the amount of orders going through to the kitchen, Stiles assumed it would take a while for Derek to get through cooking for the actual paying customers, and could start on something for Stiles. So after quickly getting bored with watching the girls’ worker bee act, he checked his cell for more information from his contacts about the hunters, and turned to his bestiary when there were no real news.

 

Eventually, though, there was apparently enough of a lull for Derek to come out with a plate of braised duck, and Stiles surreptitiously wiped his mouth in case he was drooling. He couldn’t quite tell, since just the thought of duck usually made him kind of numb and tingly. It was piled gently on a layer of bacon and cheddar covering a steamed bun, with a generous helping of fried onions on top, and accompanied by thick fries dotted with whatever magical spices Derek used to make them taste like heaven. Y’know, if heaven was hot, heavy and steamy and made you want to moan with pleasure. Stiles had never been all that into religion, so he wouldn’t know.

 

Unfortunately, about three seconds later, a harried and pissed off-looking Cora came and herded Derek back into the kitchen, so it didn’t seem like Stiles would be getting any company or conversation with his meal. Not that Derek was normally known for his excellent conversationalist skills, but, y’know, it had been nice, talking to him the day before. Instead, Stiles tried to keep an eye out for suspects, but it was hard enough to get a bead on even the regulars, in this crowd. Looking for supernatural signatures or auras was just about hopeless.

 

Slowly, ever so slowly, the place started to empty out, and Stiles sighed ever so slightly in relief, happy that there’d been no attempts while the place was so crowded. Not only would identifying the perp have been even trickier than normal, but with that many people, someone was almost bound to be hurt by any kind of mischief.

 

Plus, witnesses to these kinds of things were best kept to a minimum.

 

The place was almost empty apart from a couple of regulars, and Laura had sent Cora and Erica home by the time Luke came in - in plain clothes, this time, and dear god, the man needed to learn how to cook -  and gave Stiles what he was pretty sure was a flirty smile. Smiles could be flirty, right?

 

Stiles waved back politely before turning back towards the bar. Derek had, for once, emerged from his kitchen, and was actually willingly in a longer conversation with Stiles. Sure, it was about how frustrating the search was, so technically, they were talking business, but still. It kind of took precedence over maybe insulting one of his dad’s deputies a little by mostly ignoring him.

 

With his back to the restaurant, Stiles only had Derek’s stony face to judge by, but it looked like he was suspiciously following Luke’s path through the restaurant ‘till the guy picked a table and sat down. “You sure the deputy over there isn’t suspicious? He’s here a lot, after all. Didn’t you say it was probably one of the regulars?”

 

“Who, Luke?” Stiles asked, laughing a little. “Nah, my dad does really thorough background checks when he hires on new deputies, and ever since the big reveal when I was a kid, that also includes having Deaton look into them. Not that, uh, creaturedom affects their likelihood of getting hired, or anything, but he likes knowing what, exactly, his people are capable of. And whether there are special considerations he has to keep in mind, that kind of stuff.”

 

“He could’ve been using a cloaking spell, or something. That’s a thing, right?” Derek said in an excellent display of Hale stubbornness. He even had the arms crossed and legs firmly planted at shoulder width stance of Extra Stubborn going on, too. Stiles shook his head.

 

“Cloaking spells are ridiculously energy-consuming, and actually kind of difficult. Most beings can’t do them well, it usually takes a pretty spiffy mage. Even then, it’s not for everyday use. They don’t last very long before you have to redo them, either, so on the off chance that he somehow knew that my dad was aware of the whole supernatural thing, he wouldn’t know when to use the cloaking spell to get under Deaton’s radar.”

 

Derek still looked sour-faced and suspicious, but relaxed, uncrossing his arms and planting both hands firmly on the bar counter. In a stunning display of lack of impulse control, Stiles placed a hand over one of Derek’s, and smiled.

 

“It’s fine, really. He’s not the one doing this.”

 

And, because apparently the universe loved to fuck with him, there was an ear-shatteringly loud crash from somewhere behind Derek, and the world went completely black. Stiles blinked in confusion, and found out that the reason for the sudden blackout, so to speak, was that Derek had shoved him down against the counter and covered him with his own body to… protect the squishy human from whatever was going on?

 

Derek’s chest rumbled on a growl, vibrating all along Stiles’ head and back, and he immediately pushed to get the werewolf off. This was their chance, damnit!

 

Reluctantly, still growling, Derek let him up, and Stiles dove for his bag, rummaging for his bottle of Enlighten-mint. Sure, this recently after an event, he might be able to track the saboteur without it, but he wasn’t going to chance it when he had the opportunity of a safe bet.

 

Throwing caution to the wind, he uncorked it and chugged down what was probably half the bottle while touching his anchoring tattoo to give his magic - already alert from the apparent attack - an extra nudge of encouragement to do its job.

 

The effect was instantaneous, and Stiles swayed with the force of the magic running through him, and the sheer vibrance of the supernatural auras and signatures he could now see just about as clearly as he could physical objects, if not more so.

 

A quick look told him that the crash had been basically every bottle, glass and mirror behind the bar shattering, and he could tell by the grey-yellow-green lingering aura of the magic that had been used that Derek had countless shards of glass embedded in his back and just… all over.

 

A wave of rage coursed through him, echoed and multiplied by the massive amount of magic he’d tapped into. He whipped around to stare at the people currently in the restaurant, and found a trio of teenagers, human, lying halfway under their table as they communicated between themselves in ‘dude’s and ‘the fuck?!’s; a woman, human, praying to a higher power she, apparently, didn’t really believe in; Laura, werewolf, growling too softly for human ears to pick up, a grand total of five humans who’d apparently been dipping too deeply into The Den’s excellent selection of beer to really understand what was going on; and Luke, who to Stiles’ smug satisfaction was also human, just like he’d said, and who was warily looking around, trying to figure out where the attack had come from, and how to best solve this situation.

 

And there, in the corner, partway hidden behind a thick wooden beam, was a thick cluster of grey-yellow-green enveloping a person, and Stiles let out a slight noise of victory. Pushing the aura away a little so he could actually see beyond it was a bit trickier, but he finally managed to punch through, and gaped a little in disbelief and pointed at the familiar face.

 

“Greenwich?!” he exclaimed, confused. His old lacrosse teammate’s head snapped up. “You’re the one doing this?”

 

“It’s Greenberg, Bilinski, you could at least have remembered my name, after four years on the lacrosse team together!” he snarled, and got up from his table, striding closer with his arms raised, presumably in readiness to fire off more attacks.

 

Stiles carefully pressed his left palm against the counter at his back, and the line of Celtic knotwork along the edge, communicating a call to arms, to protect, and offering his own strength as well. The ward net gladly drank of the offered strength, and practically glowed with indignation that someone had attacked its territory.

 

“Uh, it’s Stilinski,” Stiles pointed out, snorting a little at the irony. Carefully, he set up a couple of partial shielding spells in front of himself and Derek, although it would have limited effect since he didn’t really know what Greenberg would throw at him. Targeted shields were always stronger than general shields protecting against everything. He just hoped that together with the ward net, it would be enough.

 

He felt Derek against his back, itching to pounce on Greenberg and take him down, so he did his best to place a calming, settling hand on the guy, just hoping that would work. Leaping without thinking really wasn’t a good idea. Laura, on the other hand, was thankfully clever enough to hang back a little and observe, waiting for an opening. Stiles shot her a grateful look.

 

“Shut up!” Greenberg yelled, spit flying.

 

“Since when are you a part of the supernatural world, anyway?” Stiles asked, since he was pretty sure he’d never actually once in his life shut up when told to do so.

 

“Since always, okay!” Greenberg’s shout was even louder this time, and flung a wave of magic or chaotic energy or whatever his ability was at Stiles, who staggered backwards into Derek at the sheer force of it. But his shields held, thankfully. And seeing an attack as it happened meant he understood the power behind it a little bit more, and could narrow the range of magic his shields protected against, making them stronger, instead. “Do you have any idea how difficult this shit was to deal with on top of puberty and the general bullshit that was high school? Not that anyone fucking noticed!”

 

Stiles groaned, making Derek let out this worried, questioning rumble. Because actual words were for sissies, or whatever. Stiles gave him a reassuring pat, not taking his eyes off of Greenberg, because he knew this kind of crazy.

 

“You’re one of those people who thought their high school experience would be as the main character of their own show on MTV or something, aren’t you.” Stiles made it a statement, because honestly, he really didn’t have to ask.

 

There was a surprising number of people - perhaps especially in the supernatural community - who felt like they were owed some kind of main character hero status for their powers or talents. Stiles didn’t wanna be that guy, but really, he blamed an overabundance of TV-watching from a young age. And probably also shitty, shitty parenting, but people always got so pissy when he said that.

 

“SHUT UP!” Greenberg screeched, his face almost purple with anger as he flung another wave of green-yellow magic. He was telegraphing enough that Stiles could brace for it, and his shields held just fine. They wouldn’t forever, though, especially since this really wasn’t the intended use for Enlighten-mint. “I was the most powerful person in that entire fucking school, and nobody even noticed me!”

 

“Uh, trust me, getting noticed is never a good thing for people like us. Like, ever.” Derek was a perfect example, but Stiles had seen plenty of others get ‘noticed’ over the years. It was never pretty. He swallowed down nausea at the combination of those memories and his magic rolling and jumping under his skin.

 

Greenberg scoffed. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

The surge of anger that ran through Stiles at that was too large and swift for him to even bother stopping it. Before he even realized what he was doing, his shields surged towards Greenberg in possibly the strongest concussive blast he was capable of. Really, offensive magic wasn’t his thing. But he couldn’t handle this child dismissing endless cases of people he knew and cared about who’d been fucked over, just because someone found out what they were. Countless deaths, injuries even the best healers couldn’t fix - not to mention the scars left behind that you couldn’t see, people who’d been left broken on the inside.

 

It knocked Greenberg off his balance, and he stumbled backwards. Not really a dangerous attack. Unless you had a werewolf ready to exploit even the smallest opportunity.

 

Laura rushed forward, swiping a leg at Greenberg’s ankles, and pressing him into the floor, arms tucked neatly behind his back. It was probably the fastest and most beautiful takedown Stiles had ever seen, and he’d hung around training camps for his dad’s deputies, okay.

 

Greenberg tried to mumble something, and Stiles stiffened in panic, trying in vain to dredge up enough power to summon new shields in case it was some sort of spell. But he didn’t have that kind of energy left, and now he was screwed because he’d let his stupid feelings get ahold of him and gambled on a stupid attack.

 

Mind racing for some kind of solution, he almost didn’t notice Laura grabbing Greenberg by the hair and smashing his face into the floor with a loud crack. His entire body went lax with unconsciousness.

 

Well. That worked too.

 

Stiles slumped in relief, wincing at a stab of pain through what felt like his entire body. Stupid magical overexertion.

 

“Stiles?” Derek asked, sounding unbelievably worried, and huh, when had Stiles ended up with Derek’s arms around him, holding up all the weight of his body Stiles himself couldn’t - which was all of it, really.

 

“Stiles!” Derek repeated, more frantic than questioning now. “What’s wrong, what did he do to you?”

 

Stile shook his head, and whimpered as it made the world swirl and his stomach roll. Oh god, so many mixing streaks and patterns of magic in this room, and the empty hollow in his head and chest where his magic reserves were supposed to be ached. He wanted to reach out and grab all those bits of magic in the air for himself to fill it back up, but he didn’t even have enough left to create threads from his reserves and outwards for the magic to travel on, and even if he did, getting it all back that quickly would break him. But fuck, it hurt so badly.

 

“Not him,” he managed to grit out, and did his best to look Derek in the eye as he explained, not wanting his wolf to jump to any conclusions. No. Not his wolf. Derek was never his. God, it was so hard to keep his eyes open. “Serum. Supposed t’be external use only. Too much magic.”

 

“That thing you drank half a bottle of did this?” Derek was sounding increasingly horrified as well as worried, and was that… was that fear? “Stiles, what do I do? How do I fix this?”

 

“Had to. Had to find ‘im,” Stiles muttered, and whimpered at another stab of pain. Something was shaking and clattering, and he was pretty sure it was him. “‘s no fix, just time.”

 

Stiles closed his eyes with a sigh, pondering how very nice it was to hear Derek repeatedly calling his name as he lost consciousness.

 

 


 

 

Stiles whimper-groaned as he clawed his way back to consciousness. His entire body ached, as if his magic had firmly and thoroughly tenderized him with a giant hammer. Note to self: Don’t try the whole drinking-magical-potions-that-are-very-bad-for-you again. Seriously this time. He was really getting too old for this shit.

 

“Stiles!” a thoroughly relieved-sounding Derek exclaimed. Which was weird. Derek wasn’t really the type for exclamations.

 

“Oh god why,” Stiles whined. He made an attempt to actually sit upright, but quickly gave up when simply sliding his arm an inch across the sheets - no wonder things felt softer than the floor he remembered collapsing on - made his skin hurt from the friction.

 

“Why what?” Derek asked, and Stiles could almost hear him hovering. He blinked his eyes open, and yep, much of the hovering. Theory confirmed, he closed them again, because seeing hurt.

 

“No, no particulars. Just a general query of why at, y’know, the universe. Nothing is beautiful and everything hurts.”

 

Derek snorted. “Well, if you’re feeling good enough to snark and mangle quotes, you’re clearly gonna be just fine.”

 

“Hey, I’m hurt here, where’s the love?”

 

“Idiots who almost get themselves killed taking pointless risks don’t get love, they get yelled at,” was Derek’s reply, and then the actual yelling started. “Seriously, Stiles, what the hell were you thinking?!”

 

“It wasn’t pointless, I got the guy, didn’t I?” Stiles protested, opening his eyes again to fix Derek with an accusing stare. He got a bit distracted by looking around, because this wasn’t his own room, and not the hospital, either. So where the hell was he? Well, judging by Derek’s presence, they were clearly at the Hale house. Actually, it looked suspiciously like Derek’s room.

How’d the Hales managed to get his dad to agree to that? Man, the showdown to decide who got to hover over Stiles’ unconscious ass must’ve been epic.

 

“You didn’t have to half kill yourself with magic to do it!” Derek said between gritted teeth. He looked like he wanted to shake Stiles, but instead he took deep, calming breath, and ran a hand ever so gently through Stiles’ hair. The hand stayed, and Stiles almost purred at the sudden pain drain. He loved werewolves. “Please don’t endanger yourself on our behalf. Especially not for things. Anything at the restaurant, we can replace or fix. The same is not true for you.”

 

“Aw, you do care,” Stiles tried to joke, but it came out a little bit too sincere, due to the giddy warmth that spread through his body from Derek’s words.

 

“Of course I care, Stiles.”

 

“Then why did you start avoiding me? I mean, I get why you moved across the country for college, and didn’t feel like coming back for, well, anything, really. But after graduating, when you did come back, it was like I didn’t even exist to you.” Stiles had been so happy when the small town rumour mill calmed down enough that Derek decided to come back. He’d been so damn excited to see him again, and it’d been such a slap in the face when Derek came home, and it turned out the feeling wasn’t mutual.

 

“I didn’t mean to-...” Derek started protesting, but cut himself off with a sigh, not meeting Stiles’ eye. “I guess I was just-... It was stupid and selfish, really. I’m… sorry I made you feel that way. It was never that you didn’t exist to me.”

 

“Then why?” Stiles demanded in frustration, hating how whiny he sounded.

 

“Please don’t ask me that,” Derek said, and he almost looked scared, as he darted a lightning-quick glance to Stiles’ face, and started to remove his hand from Stiles’ hair, as if readying himself to run away. Stiles let out a small whimper of pain, and the hand immediately came back, pain drain included.

 

“I kinda think I have a right to know. You were my best friend, and then suddenly, you just vanished. This last week is the most you’ve spoken to me in a decade. Actually, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard more from you this last week than the entire last decade combined. If you didn’t mean to make me think you hated me, you did a pretty shitty job. So please, at least tell me why.”

 

“Because you grew up!” Derek near-shouted.

 

Stiles stared at him in dazed confusion. “What?”

 

“I knew you’d be older when I came back from college, but I didn’t really get what that meant. And I really wasn’t ready to go around finding a damn sixteen-year-old attractive. I kept hoping it would go away, but it only got worse, ‘cause you were the same person you’d always been, just… more so; clever and fiercely protective, and so strong, stronger than I ever could be. I couldn’t… I couldn’t handle being that person, wanting that.”

 

Stiles’ ears were ringing from that confession, and his heart felt like it was trying to beat its way out of his chest, as he made a futile attempt at not getting his hopes up. Because it sounded like Derek… liked him, which was insane, right?

 

“Do you-... I mean, I haven’t been sixteen for a long time,” he managed at last, and got a scowl in return.

 

“That doesn’t really change anything,” Derek replied in a frustrated growl. And really, what? Stiles could understand not being okay with the underage thing, especially for Derek, considering what had happened to him when he was sixteen, but continued issues with the whole thing for ages?

 

“Well, it does make it legal, at least,” Stiles pointed out, since - in his opinion, at least - that was a pretty big difference. His heart was still hammering away, and he felt like he was standing on the very edge of a cliff, bracing to jump. It was up to Derek whether he’d land softly, or crash and burn, but Stiles was feeling more cautiously optimistic about his chances than he’d ever been before.

 

Derek scoffed, and finally removed his hand from Stiles’ head for good this time, to cross his arms defensively. “I’m still… me, and you’re still not interested.”

 

“What on earth gave you that idea?” Because really, wasn’t Derek supposed to be a werewolf? Shouldn’t he be able to smell or hear or know somehow about Stiles’ gigantic crush on him?

 

“Don’t joke about this, Stiles, not this. I know I’m not exactly… dating material,” Derek said with a grimace, clearly regretting his own word choice.

 

Yeah, as if Stiles would ever joke about maybe having a chance with the love of his life. “What the hell does that even mean? ‘Dating material’? Are you kidding me right now? You’re an excellent chef, owner of a successful business, you do all these little things to make the people in your life happy, but you never expect - or even seem to want - any recognition for it, and as if that wasn’t enough, you’re also incidentally hot as burning. If that’s not enough to qualify as ‘dating material’, what is? Shitting gold and curing cancer?”

 

Derek did an epic eye-roll. “You know what I mean, Stiles.”

 

“I truly, honestly don’t,” he replied, slowly and seriously shaking his head, without dropping eye contact.

 

“I’m not… good at this,” Derek said, growling in frustration at Stiles’ blank look. “Talking. Letting people in. It’s just easier to… avoid.”

 

Stiles literally couldn’t stop staring at him. Really, Derek wasn’t saying what Stiles thought he was, right?

 

“Please tell me you didn’t dodge me like the fucking plague for a decade just so you wouldn’t have to talk about feelings.”

 

Derek got up, and Stiles could tell from his shifty-eyed look that it wasn’t to pace, or anything that simple; no, Derek was clearly leaving, and really. There was no way he’d let this shit fly.

 

“No!” Stiles barked in his best stern, commanding voice. “Sit! Stay!”

 

It was hard not to preen when Derek’s butt immediately glued itself back to the chair, without any apparent conscious thought involved. He gave Stiles an incredulous look. “Really? Dog jokes?!”

 

“If the shoe fucking fits!” Stiles yelled, and really, he didn’t have the energy to put up with this shit. “And no, that’s not a werewolf thing, it’s a you-were-about-to-slink-out-of-here-with-your-tail-between-your-legs-like-a-guilty-puppy thing. Don’t even front with me, you were.”

 

Derek’s mouth, open and ready to protest, sulkily closed again.

 

“Just…” Stiles paused with a tired sigh. “Please don’t run away? You don’t have to explain or tell me every single worry or issue you’ve got right now, because I would happily spend the rest of my life slowly learning whatever they are, if you would just promise not to run away from me.”

 

His brain caught up with his mouth, and shit, that was a creepily heavy thing to say, when he had nothing more to go on than a vague admission of attraction. Why did he always have to screw things up?

 

“You-... you mean that,” Derek stated, not even a trace of questioning in his tone as his wide-eyed stare flickered from Stiles’ face to his chest and, presumably, his steady heartbeat.

 

With how hot his face felt, Stiles was pretty sure he was currently doing an excellent impression of a tomato. “I, uh, if that’s something you’d be interested in?”

 

Derek slowly, carefully edged his hand closer to the one Stiles rested beside him on the bed, and his fingers seemed to tremble as they closed over Stiles’. Almost as if his strings had been cut, Derek slumped over, and Stiles could feel the weight of his head on their joined hands, and the warm puffs of his breath making Stiles’ fingertips almost uncomfortably damp.

 

“Yeah,” Derek groaned in an almost-whisper, and swallowed audibly. “I’d… like that.”

 

“I would too,” Stiles mumbled, petting Derek’s hair with his free hand despite the awkward position, and trying not to cry. Not that he’d ever admit to being close to tears.

 

Maybe it was the whole magical depletion thing, or maybe it was due to crazy heavy emotional stuff, but Stiles suddenly felt bone weary, like he could sleep for at least a year.

 

“Hey,” he said, tugging a little on Derek’s hair for his attention. “‘m tired. Can we have cuddles and nap time?”

 

Derek looked up and fixed Stiles with the most gorgeous smile he’d ever seen. He wanted to keep that smile on Derek’s face forever, if he could. He didn’t get to watch it for long before Derek nudged him over on his side to make enough room to slide in behind him.

 

At any other time, he probably would’ve protested the protective curl of Derek’s big spoon, but it was comfortable and warm, and Stiles was pretty sure he’d never felt more safe in his entire life. So he’d let it slide, just this once. In deference to sleepytiems, since he was, y’know, not at 100% yet. Stiles would establish his excellent big spoon abilities next time.

 

He fell asleep before he could even make the mental note.

 

 


 

 

Stiles woke up to the fake shutter click of a cell phone camera, and groaned in protest, because really. Not cool.

 

“Hah, I fucking called it!” Laura crowed in victory, and when Stiles cracked an eye and raised himself up enough to look over Derek’s (very nice) shoulder, she was doing a little shimmy. He growled, but it didn’t really sound all that impressive compared to the actual werewolf growls, so she didn’t seem too intimidated. What the fuck was she even doing in Derek’s room, anyway?

 

“Why are you interrupting sleepy cuddles?” Stiles complained, turning so he could snuggle closer to Derek and still keep an eye on Laura. Derek was playing possum to avoid interacting with his sister, and was fooling no-one. “Pretty sure that’s a crime. I should get my dad to arrest you.”

 

“Oh shut up, you’ve been sleeping for almost two days,” Laura said, blithely continuing her stupid photoshoot. “And then Derek didn’t come back out, either, so I was sent to check up on you both. We were kinda worried about you, Dottyboo.”

 

“Didn’t we sign a contract that you’d never call me that ever again?” Stiles still had that contract stored in a safe location, with a couple of copies here and there, just in case.

 

Laura crossed her arms with a smug, triumphant smirk. “Yeah, but a dumbass move like this is big enough it totally falls under clause 1a in section three.”

 

Dammit, he hated that clause. He was pretty sure Laura’d been waiting for years to put it in play.

 

“Hey, I caught the guy, what’s so dumbass about that! I protest your use of 1a,” Stiles said, totally willing to drag her to court if need be. They had a contract, okay.

 

“You almost got yourself killed. Pointlessly. As if we care more about The Den than your health? I’m pretty sure that’s top of the crop dumbassery,” Laura said, rolling her eyes. Derek even dropped his sleeping act to rumble in agreement. Seriously, how many times were they going to harp on the same thing? Stupid, obnoxious werewolves. “If you didn’t just give me the necessary photo evidence to make me very rich, I would be yelling at you.”

 

“Wait, what?” Stiles blinked at her in confusion. Really, he hadn’t been awake for long enough to work through ambiguous statements.

 

“You just won me The Great Hale Pool Of Derek And Stiles,” she explained, and Stiles could pretty much hear the capital letters of the title. He whined. Seriously, this wasn’t happening.

 

“You… bet on whether or not we’d get together?” Stiles asked her for confirmation, feeling horrified and just a little bit betrayed. Seriously, friends - or family, surely the Hales were family by now - didn’t bet on each others’ love lives, right? Well, okay, maybe Stiles would’ve wanted in on the action had it been about anyone else, but really. Not cool. He’d been pining for long enough he didn’t really feel like having a sense of humour about it.

 

“Oh, honey, no. When, not whether. There wasn’t a single loser stupid enough to take the sucker bet that you guys wouldn’t hook up eventually. Really, Stiles, we’re much better gamblers than that,” Laura told him, smug as you please.

 

“You guys all suck,” Stiles muttered, and hid his burning face in Derek’s chest. It was kind of nice that to the rest of the Hales, Derek had apparently been as pathetically obvious as Stiles was, but really, they could’ve just fucking told him, instead of gambling about it, the dicks. “Go away.”

 

“Nope!” Laura said with a cheerful cackle. “You worried us all to death, so now that you’re awake, it’s time to suffer. We had to physically pull John away so he’d go to work, so he’s taking his worry out on poor, unsuspecting criminals. Mom, Aunt Dahlia and Aunt Sophie are all taking it out on everyone else. Pretty sure the kids all fled to the Preserve, so who knows when they’ll be back. Nate called home in a panic ‘cause he could feel us freaking out over the pack bond all the way over in Boston. You broke us, Stiles. We don’t do worry all that great. Suffer in silence.”

 

“I never do anything in silence,” Stiles grumbled, half-muted by how his face was mashed into Derek’s henley. Werewolf hearing could probably compensate, anyway.

 

“Yeah, well, there’s a first time for everything. Deal with it,” she said cruelly, and slammed Derek’s bedroom door open so loudly and suddenly Stiles couldn’t help but wince. How that wasn’t excruciating to werewolf hearing, he did not know.

 

“MOM!” Laura yelled, and holy shitballs, lung capacity. “STILES IS UP! AND I WON THE BET!”

 

Stiles whimpered a little at the ensuing stampede, and Derek’s hand coming up to pet his hair could only help so much, despite being ridiculously soothing. Really, why the yelling and running, couldn’t the stupid wolves spy on his heartbeat or whatever to figure this shit out for themselves?  

 

“Hey, sweetie,” Talia called in, and almost cooed at - presumably - Derek and Stiles cuddling. The room was rapidly filling up with werewolves, and Stiles knew those slightly tense poses.

 

“No,” he told them sternly. “No tackle-hugs, I still hurt.”

 

The wolves all reluctantly and sulkily relaxed, and started leaning up against various walls as if to say ‘who, me? I meant to do this the entire time, I wasn’t about to do partake in any enthusiastic puppy-piling’. Stiles knew his werewolves, and it really wasn’t very convincing.

 

Derek let out an oddly happy, continuous growl, tugging Stiles closer up against his body. It almost felt like a purr, and damn, Stiles wished purring was a thing he could do too.

 

Hang on.

 

“Derek, are you puppy-purring because you get to cuddle me and the others don’t?” Stiles asked, failing entirely at not sounding suspicious. The entire concept was ridiculous, but still...

 

The rumble stopped abruptly, and Derek stayed silent. With how unnaturally still he held his body, though, it felt more like an ‘I plead the fifth’ silence than an ‘oh please, as if’ one.

 

The other wolves in the room burst out laughing, ‘causing an impressive air of sulking from Derek.

 

“Glad to see you’re feeling better, Stiles,” Talia managed around her chuckles as she came over to perch on the edge of Derek’s bed. She gave Stiles’ shoulder a gentle rub. “We were worried.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, puny, breakable human, don’t do stupid things, I get it already,” Stiles grumbled. Sure, he was... well, not happy, but flattered they all cared enough to be this worried about him, but really, it’d been fine. It wasn’t as if he didn’t know what he was doing.

 

“Oh, Stiles,” Sophie said gently, and went for the edge of the bed opposite Talia. She stroked his head a little, reminiscent of his mother, and Stiles had to swallow down the sudden lump in his throat. “I really don’t think you do.”

 

“You yelled at me for jumping out a window,” Derek pointed out, dragging his nose against Stiles’ skin in a move that really shouldn’t feel as good as it did. “You know werewolves can handle more than that without it even causing any damage, even without taking the healing into consideration. You’ve seen me do it. But you still yelled, saying it was reckless. Because you were worried, right?”

 

“Right,” Stiles muttered. He wasn’t sure he approved of the direction of this conversation.

 

“This is the same. So you should know it hasn’t got anything to do with weakness, real or otherwise. It’s done out of... caring for someone,” Derek said, and geez, that awkward pause sounded suspiciously like he’d originally intended to say something else, but he’d changed it last moment. As if he wasn’t sure Stiles was ready to hear that word, yet. Or like he didn’t want to assume that had been Stiles’ motive for yelling.

 

“Okay,” Stiles whispered around the growing lump in his throat. “‘m sorry. I’ll try to be more careful.”

 

Derek made an approving noise, and placed a soft kiss to Stiles’ forehead. Cue a room full of cooing werewolves, ugh. They all crowded closer, Dieter and Alex settling next to their wives, and Dahlia and Grant grabbing the foot end of the bed for themselves. Peter was oddly absent, but Stiles didn’t pay it much thought. As with most things Peter, it was probably best not to know.

 

“I’ll just go call John and let him know you’re up, ‘kay?” Laura said with a chuckle. “And at some point, we need to howl the kiddies home. Although the quiet without them is kinda nice.”

 

“You’re a horrible person,” Stiles told her in complete seriousness, ignoring all the wolves unsubtly inching closer. If he wasn’t in an actual pile of them in three minutes or less, he’d eat his own shirt.

 

“I know,” Laura sighed, and shook her head sadly. “It keeps me up at night.”

 

“Hey, stop stealing my jokes!”

 

“Sharing is caring, Stiles,” Laura cackled, before shaking her phone at him and skipping off, presumably to call his dad, before joining them all on Derek’s bed.

 

Ten minutes later, the entire thing started shaking from mass werewolf snicking - and Stiles had long since won the shirt-eating bet with himself.

 

“What’s going on?” he demanded. Sometimes, he really hated werewolf senses. Or rather, that he didn’t have them too.

 

“You’ll see,” Talia told him smugly, still snickering. She’d hardly even finished talking when Stiles heard-... Were those police sirens?

 

“Dad,” he groaned, and rolled over enough that he could slap a palm across his own eyes. Seconds later, the blaring patrol car screeched to a halt outside the Hale house, and the front door slammed open with an audible bang. Stiles winced.

 

“Stiles!” his dad called, and sprinted up the stairs, faster than Stiles would’ve given him credit for. Huh, he must be in better shape than Stiles’d thought.

 

“I’m fine, dad,” he called, as his dad almost crashed into the door frame of Derek’s room in his haste. “Although I’m not sure what probable cause you had to burst into someone’s house like this in uniform. And the sirens? Really?”

 

“Shut up, Stiles,” his dad said, and blithely crawled across the bedfull of wolves to cradle Stiles’ face in his hands, staring intently at him. “Don’t you ever, ever do that to me again, kid.”

 

In a surprising display of tact, the wolves subtly trickled out of the room with a last, lingering touch, as Stiles’ dad grabbed him in a crushing hug. Even Derek, however reluctantly, left them alone.

 

“I’m fine,” Stiles repeated, hugging back as hard as he could.

 

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here when you woke up,” his dad muttered wetly, along with something that sounded suspiciously like a sniffle. Stiles elected to ignore it, for both their dignity’s sake.

 

“That’s okay,” Stiles replied. “I’m actually kinda glad?”

 

His dad drew back with a - slightly hurt? - glare, and Stiles ignored how red his eyes were, too.

 

“Not like that, dad, I just... I got to talk to Derek in private,” he explained, and tried not to blush in the face of his dad’s smirk.

 

“Good talk, huh?”

 

“Yeah,” Stiles agreed, and felt his face flush hotter. “So I’m glad I got the chance. I’m not sure when - or even if - I’d’ve gotten a new opportunity if I’d missed this one.”

 

“I’m happy for you, son,” his dad said, and hugged him tight again. “But the next time you need to talk to someone, just tell them. Don’t go around almost killing yourself.”

 

Stiles groaned, and thunked his head against his dad’s shoulder as much as he was able to in the close quarters of the hug. “Yeah, yeah. I’m never living this down, am I?”

 

“Nope,” came the cheerful reply.

 

“So, update on the bad guys? What happened to Greenberg after I passed out? And hunters?” Stiles prompted, ‘cause really, he desperately needed to change the subject.

 

His dad chuckled a little at the obvious ploy, and let go to settle next to Stiles on the bed. “Well, I’m not sure how much I should tell you about an ongoing police investigation-...”

 

Stiles scoffed. Really, since when had that stopped them, anyway? And this from a guy who’d just abused the siren on his patrol car? Not to mention, Stiles was the one who’d gathered most the evidence, anyway.

 

“Fine, fine, I’ll tell you,” his dad said after a brief pause, clearly enjoying dragging this out. “Deputy Thompson, in a stunning display of workaholism, was carrying his cuffs even in plain clothes, so there was never any danger, really. That Greenberg sure got a surprise when he woke up again from Laura’s floor-smash.”

 

“The perks of having a Sheriff in the know,” Stiles said with a smug nod. “Told you spelling the cuffs would be a good idea.”

 

“Yeah, well, with all the angry rants he did, we’ve got enough to put him away for a while, even despite the lack of evidence. And I’ve talked to Deaton about setting up some kind of dampening spell, ‘cause I honestly don’t think I can defend leaving someone that unstable with that much power.

 

Stiles gave his dad a sideways hug. “You’re the best Sheriff ever, dad. And the hunter duo? You have enough on them? I mean, I haven’t checked my email yet, so I could have more stuff, but...”

 

“Stiles, it’s fine,” his dad interrupted with a soft laugh. “They’re more petty criminals than anything, really, and I made some calls about the stuff you already gave me, so I’m pretty sure we can nail them, too. You did good, son. Apart from the whole putting-your-life-in-danger-for-absolutely-no-good-reason thing. If you’re so worried about my heart, then stop trying to give me a heart attack.”

 

“Sorry, dad,” he mumbled, hugging his dad a little closer and hiding in his uniform shirt. The sudden surge of guilt and shame felt like a punch to the gut. “Love you.”

 

“Love you too, son. Even when you drive me crazy,” his dad said, hugging him back every bit as tightly. Then he sighed, and it was the terribly guilty one Stiles hated, the one his dad let out whenever he felt he was being a failure of a parent. Apparently, feelings of guilt and inadequacy was a Stilinski family trait.

 

“You have to go back to work, don’t you,” Stiles said, feeling pretty confident in his deduction. Slowly, reluctantly, he drew back from the hug.

 

“No, Stiles, of course I don’t, you’re-...”

 

“Dad,” Stiles interrupted with a stern look.

 

“I… may have hung up on the DA when Laura called,” his dad admitted with a slight grimace, shifting uncomfortably.

 

“Oh my god, you’re where I got all my personality defects from! It’s all genetic, and I was doomed from the start! Dad! What the hell?!” Stiles slapped his dad gently on the closest arm, and glared at the closed bedroom door when he could hear nosy werewolf snickers from the other side. Despite their neverending supply of mystical werewolf powers, even the Hales couldn’t see through walls, so Stiles did his best to will general resentment in their direction. Maybe that was something they could smell. A guy could hope, anyway.

 

“Language,” his dad scolded automatically. “You’re my son, Stiles, my only family. You will always come first, no matter what, so please don’t ever be surprised by that.”

 

Stiles felt a pleased flush spread through his body, and tried his best not to grin like an idiot. Sure, it wasn’t as if he’d ever doubted that his dad cared - not really - but it was still kinda nice to hear. Y’know, even for such a buff, manly Stilinski such as himself. “Gotcha,” he mumbled, slightly embarrassed at all these feelings. He shoved a little as his dad. “Now go do Sheriffy things. I’m fine, and I’ve got a bunch of Hales happy to hover in your place. And yes, I’m sure.”

 

His dad closed his mouth again on the obvious protest. “Well, if you’re absolutely sure,” he said reluctantly, and smiled a little at Stiles’ nod. Stiffly, and with a slight grunt, he got up from the bed. Stiles swallowed down the immediate pang of worry. He hated any reminder that his dad wasn’t getting any younger.

 

“Well, take care, then. I’ll be back in a couple of hours, and then you can tell me all about your talk with Derek.”

 

Stiles blushed furiously at his dad’s smirk, and hid his face in his hands. He took it all back; the man was clearly still five years old. “Oh my god, we really did just talk, dad, I swear!”

 

“Sure thing, kid. Whatever you say,” his dad said, leaving the room with a cackle.

 

Groaning, Stiles curled up into a tiny ball, hiding under Derek’s covers. His embarrassment wasn’t helped much by by the room filling up again with smug Hales enjoying his pain. He could just about feel their glee in the air. “Not one word,” he told them gravely, and spat in disgust when talking made him eat sheets. Despite smelling wonderfully like Derek, they really didn’t taste all that great.

 

“Oh honey,” Laura said, her voice dripping with exaggerated fake sympathy. The bed dipped as she sat down and patted Stiles’ blanket burrito. Or was blanket dumpling more accurate? Whatever. “You know that’s not gonna happen.”

 

Stiles sighed, resigned to his fate. “Fuck my life.”

 

 


 

 

It took three hours for the Hales to get sick of mocking, hovering and cooing, and finally leaving him alone with Derek. Stiles actually considered jumping out the window at one point, but he was glad he’d been able to resist. Being able to sit in the vee of Derek’s legs, propped up against his chest was worth a couple of hours of obnoxious Hales. Mostly, anyway.

 

With a happy hum, Stiles pulled Derek’s arms closer around himself, and tilted his head back to look Derek in the eye. “So. What made you stop ignoring me this week, anyway? I mean, if you don’t mind me asking.”

 

“It’s stupid, really,” Derek replied, sounding surprisingly, heh, sheepish. Y’know, for a werewolf. “But you kept saying… Well, it sounded like you thought I hated you, and I… I wanted to prove you wrong, at least a little.”

 

Stiles snorted loudly. “I’m honestly not sure what else you expected me to think.”

 

“I get that now,” Derek said with a wince, and hugged Stiles closer. “I just… I thought you’d blame me. For avoiding you. But instead, you kept wanting to make me happy, even though you thought I hated you. No-one’s ever done anything like that for me before. I guess I wanted to pay some of that back a little.”

 

Stiles felt a fluttery warmth spread in his stomach, twitching desperately for an outlet that he had no idea how to provide. He rubbed his cheek against Derek’s neck in a wolfy gesture that felt both ridiculous and stupidly right at the same time. But it made Derek rumble happily, so he figured that was a win, even if it didn’t help all that much with the fluttering.

 

“Y’know,” he mumbled against Derek’s stubble, enjoying the rasp of it on his lips. “I was thinking of moving back home to Beacon Hills. I mean, I can do my job from anywhere, really, and there’s this guy I’d love to spend more time with, which is kinda hard if I live hours away.”

 

Derek pulled back to fix Stiles with a wide-eyed, almost hopeful stare. “You sure? I wouldn’t ask, or expect you to-..”

 

Stiles physically shut Derek up with fingers over his mouth, and grinned. “I’m sure. I want to. There’s nothing much keeping me in Santa Cruz, anyway, and besides, I miss everybody, not just you. Mostly you, though.”

 

Derek nipped playfully at his fingers, and Stiles pulled them away with a slight yelp of surprise, and, y’know, unexpected arousal. Which was kind of a bit soon when he’d promised just hours earlier to take the time to work with Derek on his… issues.

 

“Thank you,” Derek said in full sincerity, and Stiles almost felt bad. After all, he was doing it every bit as much for himself as for Derek, if not more so. He really didn’t deserve that kind of gratitude.

 

“Well, I did say ‘anything for you’, remember?” Stiles joked, in an attempt to lighten the slightly heavy mood.

 

“You did,” Derek said with a breathtaking smile that almost made Stiles swoon. “I don’t think I fully believed it, though. So thank you. And I would do anything for you too.”

 

“Promises, promises.” It sounded a bit too breathy and nowhere near as teasing as Stiles had intended, but he couldn’t really blame himself, in the face of all that.

 

Derek hummed a confirmation and leaned in for a kiss, his tongue so much hotter on Stiles’ lips - werewolf hot, his mind supplied - than anything he’d ever experienced before. A soft moan was enough to let that hot, wet tongue inside, which was about a thousand percent better, and Stiles never wanted to stop kissing Derek, ever. Oxygen was overrated, anyway, and he didn’t that bullshit in his life.

 

One of Derek’s large hands came up to gently cradle Stiles’ face - oh god, it felt huge, and was it proportionate? Big hands, big everything? He couldn’t wait to find out - and human-blunt nails scratched gently against his scalp, making him moan again and arch his back, just a little. Which shoved his ass against Derek’s crotch, and yeah, he totally couldn’t wait to find out. At least Derek was enjoying the kiss as well, Stiles thought, just a little bit smug.

 

“You’re gonna kill me,” Stiles gasped as they finally broke apart. “Kill me dead.”

 

“Why would I do that? I’ve wanted you for way too long to do something that wasteful,” Derek said with a low werewolf purr, pressing more wet, filthy kisses against Stiles’ neck and setting his skin aflame with stubble burn. “I intend to keep you for as long as you’ll let me.”

 

Stiles’ laugh at that trailed off into a hiss as Derek hit a particularly sensitive spot. Fucking hell, how was he so good at this? “You’re never getting rid of me, then.”

 

Derek pulled away with a fond yet smug smile, and Stiles wasn’t sure he’d ever seen the guy look this happy before. “Good.”

 

“Possessive wolf.” He gave Derek a peck on the nose, since he was pretty sure another real kiss would heat things up too much and send any inhibitions and good intentions flying out the window.

 

“You like it, though,” Derek stated, though it sounded more like a question. Stiles could just about feel himself melting.

 

“I do,” he confirmed with a gooey smile. Which, of course, was when his moment-ruining stomach started growling louder than an entire pack of wolves. Derek collapsed laughing.

 

“This is the kind of excellent timing I’ve got to look forward to for the rest of my life, isn’t it?” he asked, still chuckling.

 

“Probably,” Stiles agreed, miserable and mortified. “Still interested?”

 

“Sounds perfect to me,” Derek said firmly, pressing a kiss to Stiles’ cheek. “C’mon, let’s get you some food.”

 

Smiling, he let Derek manhandle him into an upright position, and together, they headed for the kitchen and, presumably, a whole bunch of nosy, obnoxious Hales. Feeling giddy, Stiles couldn’t help but laugh a little as he grabbed Derek’s hand.

 

It sounded perfect to him, too.