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From Dirty Paws

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Stiles has lived in Beacon Hills his whole life and as the child of local law enforcement, everyone in town has always seemed to know him. Most of the faces he sees are familiar; neighborhood families and the parents, siblings, and assorted others of his classmates.

All in all, it makes his every day life pretty routine.

Every trip to the grocery store, bank, comic book store and organic food co-op (in these recent high school years when he began to worry more and more about his father’s health) is met with friendly greetings. The Carsons, the Whittemores, the McCalls, the Evans…es – they all know Stiles even when he didn’t really know them.

The Hales are one of those families he knows only from a distance. Cora is in his grade but not his social circle; her older siblings already in college or on their own somewhere. The whole town knows about the Hales, their huge property bordering the Preserve that cuts the town in half. To get from the residential area to the main part of town, most people have to drive the lonely stretch of road that divides the Preserve.

When he was a kid, riding the back of the car behind his parents, Stiles had seen the dogs the Hales always seemed to be raising. There were occasional flashes of bright grey fur and fast-moving, black-coated animals darting around deep in the woods. Stiles always worried for their safety, left on their own in the forest so close to the main road but he had never heard of one of them being injured by the cars going through.

As he drives through the Preserve on his way home from school, still early in his senior year, Stiles lets his mind wander and realizes it has been a few years since he has seen any of the dogs. The thought makes him oddly sad, wondering if the Hales had stopped breeding them at some point.

Even as he decides to ask his dad if he had heard anything in the town gossip mill, he catches sight of one of those familiar flashes out of the corner of his eye. He glances quickly out the side window but whatever it was has disappeared. Might still be around after all, he thinks with a little smile.

**

Fall meant cross-country, which meant after school training and long, lonely weekend runs through the Preserve. Occasionally, Stiles would cross paths with one of his teammates on the trails. The long Thanksgiving weekend meant his father was working on Friday and Stiles had the day to himself, hours that he could spend running in the woods.

Eyes drifting as he dropped into an easy cool-down jog, Stiles caught another flash of light color out the corner of his eye. Slowing to a stop next to a tree and leaning a hand against the rough bark, he pulled the headphones from his ears and searched his surroundings. He caught a quiet huff and turned, eyes going wide as he saw the animal standing only a few yards away, looking at him warily from behind a tree.

It was the first time in his life that he had seen one of them up close and not just as a flash in the woods. He realizes, staring frozen in place, that these are not ordinary dogs. These are wolves. There is no doubt in his mind – the Hales had been raising wolves all this time. He realizes then that his father must know already, because there must be permits involved in keeping and breeding them. He tucks away a mental note to ask when he gets home. But for now, he has no idea what to do about the wolf currently watching him.

Stiles does what he does best. Puts on an easy grin and waves, intent on making a friend. “Hey there, wolfy,” he says, grimacing at how dumb he sounds. “Look, you’re in the wrong part of the park – the Hale border is about a half mile that way,” pointing to the left.

The wolf makes another chuffing sound and sniffs at the air.

“You got lost, huh,” Stiles sighs. “Right. Okay, I’ll take you home this one time but no more adventures out here unless you leave a trail of…of bacon bits or something to lead you back.”

There is an annoyed grunt from the wolf and Stiles could swear it rolls its eyes. But seeing how Stiles is the one who isn’t lost, the wolf grudgingly follows the teen through the woods back to the Hale property.

**

Talia hears approaching footfalls from inside, recognizing Derek’s four-footed shuffle but not knowing whom the human steps belong to. She waits until there is a knock before going to open the door.

As she predicted, there is Derek in his wolf form, looking humiliated. Talia smiles at the other person, belatedly recognizing him as the Sheriff’s son. “Hello,” she greets him warmly. “You’re John Stilinski’s boy, aren’t you?”

“Yes ma’am,” he nods. “Everyone calls me Stiles. This – uh, this might sound weird but I found this guy in the woods and he seemed lost. I know – I mean, I think you guys raise dogs – er, wolves, here? Is he – or, um, she – one of yours?”

Talia stifles a laugh easily but behind her, she can hear Cora approaching and Talia knows her younger daughter will not be so kind. “You were right the first time, he’s a he. Cora, sweetie, one of our little guys seems to have gotten out into the woods. Would you be so kind as to take him out back?”

Cora is bright red with trying not to laugh out loud and Talia can see Derek’s scowl easily. “Sure, Mom, I’ll make sure this lost little puppy gets back to his proper place.” Cora reaches a hand out to Derek who groans and allows himself to be led past Talia and into the house.

They barely make it out of the living room before Talia can hear Cora’s laughter.

“Thank you so much for returning him,” Talia tells Stiles, her own laughter on hold for the moment. “The wolves are usually very good about not leaving our property but occasionally they do wander off. This is the first time in many years one of them has gotten lost.”

“It’s no problem,” Stiles assures her, frowning slightly because he can still hear Cora laughing loudly from across the house. He has no idea why bringing home a lost animal is this hysterical. “I’ll just – yeah. Anyway, I should get home.”

“Do you need a ride?” Talia asks with some concern, remembering how Stiles had been walking in from the woods.

Stiles shakes his head quickly. “No, thank you so much but no, I’m parked just down the road, I’m good. Thank you, though.”

Talia smiles, nodding. “If you’re sure. Thank you again for returning him. Be safe.”

“I will,” Stiles responds as he backs up to leave. “I’ll see you around, Mrs. Hale.”

**

“Shut up, Cora,” Derek growls as he pulls on a shirt. “It’s not my fault.”

After seeing Stiles off, Talia follows the sound of her two youngest children and finds them in Derek’s room. She gives Cora a mild reprimanding look and turns to her son. “Derek, honey, what happened?”

Derek sits heavily on the edge of his bed. “The forest smells different than the last time I was home,” he tells her reluctantly. “I thought I was closer to the south side of the property because I could smell the ash from the brush fire years ago.”

“Oh,” Talia exclaims as she realizes what he means. “There’s a new burn area to the west from a fire earlier this year. We should have told you before you went running, I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Derek waves the apology off with a hand. “I know how easy it is to forget new features to the area and changes in the Preserve. I shouldn’t have only been trusting the smell to guide me.”

Cora lets out another burst of giggles. “You have no idea how adorable it was to see you being led home like a lost puppy.”

“Cora, that’s enough,” Talia tells her daughter sternly. “Derek did the right thing, letting Stiles bring him home. You both know how careful we need to be, especially with the Argent family moving back to town two years ago.”

At the reminder, Cora grimaces and Derek looks up with a frown. “They haven’t – “

“No,” Talia assures him. “They’ve kept their truce with us, I would have told you otherwise. But we cannot afford to be seen by the rest of the town’s population. You’re only home for the holiday weekend, Derek, so I didn’t think to remind you to stay close to home.”

Derek swallows hard. “What about when I move back at the end of the semester?”

“We’ll make sure you are up-to-date on the changes to the landscape before you go off on your own. The town’s gotten bigger while you’ve been at school and that means more people are spending time in the Preserve. We need to stay safe.”

**

Derek finishes his Masters a semester early as he figured he would, moving back home for a well-deserved break from studying before starting his Ph.D. in the fall. He has missed being with his family the last nearly six years, working hard at Berkeley and only able to come home on holidays and too-short vacations.

The first few days at home are spent with his dad, relearning his home territory and becoming familiar with the changes to the landscape over the years. New burn areas to smell, shifts in boundary lines and animal behavior; things he has known since he was a child but now having to start over after so much time away from home.

Fall semester had ended before Christmas so he welcomes the warmth of the season. The whole town, even with its much larger population now that it had had back when he was in high school, was full of lights and shiny garland, fake and real candles bright in the shop windows.

Distracted by the gleam of white lights off of multi-colored ornaments in a storefront tree, Derek doesn’t see the door open until he runs smack into it. “Shit,” he hisses, rubbing the sore spot on his forehead briefly for show, though the pain is already gone.

“Sorry! I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you – “ a familiar voice rambles and Derek finally notices who is holding the door. Stiles, the kid from the woods. Now, under the cover of night and with only the blinking white lights to illuminate them, Stiles looks ethereal. Pale with cold-flushed cheeks, hair sticking up in all directions and bright brown eyes wide with concern. And Derek can’t even blame a concussion for this sudden, unlikely fascination with the kid he had only really met once. He watches as Stiles closes the door and steps out of the way. “Are you okay?”

Derek shakes himself and draws up a polite smile. “Fine, no harm done,” he says in a low voice. “My fault, I wasn’t watching where I was going.”

“Still, I’m just – sorry,” Stiles looks him over critically. “Oh! I know you!”

Derek’s heart gives a sharp twinge. There’s no way he knows –

“You’re uh – Cora’s brother, right? Hale? Um – “ Stiles makes a show of snapping his fingers, as if that will aid his memory.

“Derek,” he supplies dully, though inside he is slumping with relief. He knows there is no way Stiles could recognize him as the wolf in the woods, but Derek has also seen stranger things in his life.

“Yes!” Stiles bounces happily. “You’re in college, right? Visiting for Christmas?”

“Just finished my Masters, actually,” Derek answers with a small smile. “Taking a break at home for a bit.”

Stiles gives him a grin. “Hey! That’s awesome, congrats, man!”

Derek ducks his head and rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. “Thanks.”

“Listen, I need to get home but it was really nice meeting you,” Stiles tells him as he takes a couple of hopping steps away.

“Yeah, same,” Derek offers a lame wave and watches Stiles climb into a beat-up blue jeep parked at the curb. See you around, he thinks with a glimmer of hope.

**

By March the ground has thawed and Derek spends more time running in the forest surrounding his home. He has missed this; the freedom to shift and run, chase shadows with a mindless abandon. College towns offer little in the way of accommodations for werewolves studying to be historians.

The last few months have been wonderfully relaxing. And catching the occasional glimpse of Stiles Stilinski running on the trials hasn’t hurt, either. After that first official meeting, Derek hasn’t run into the guy again, only a few fleeting sightings.

Derek waits until long after dark on a Friday night before lazily trotting his way through the dense patch of trees. The rain from earlier in the day had let up before the sun had set, leaving the pine needles and underbrush smelling stronger than usual, damp and chilly but not altogether unpleasant.

Which just means that the smell of fresh smoke was just that much more out of place.

Raising his nose high in the air, he takes deep breaths until he catches the direction. He takes off in a fast run toward the source and only when he spots the light of the flame does he pull up short and tuck himself behind a thick trunk.

It is a simple campfire, surrounded by heavy rocks and clearly contained. Where the dry wood had come from to feed the flames was a mystery, but the person sitting next to the fire is instantly recognizable. The figure is sitting on the wet ground, legs pulled up to his chest and arms wrapped around to the front of his knees.

Stiles.

Now much closer, Derek can pick up the more subtle smells under the stronger scent of wood smoke. Most worrying is the telltale reek of whiskey. He spots the bottle, half full, dangling limply from Stiles’ fingers, tapping sloppily against his shin.

Derek huffs and grimaces to himself. He can’t shift now without any clothes on hand, but he also can’t leave the kid here alone knowing Stiles has been drinking. With no other options, he steps out into the open and waits for Stiles to notice him.

It takes a few minutes, but eventually Stiles pauses his soft humming and looks up. His eyes are red, wet and shining where the fire is reflected. His eyebrows pull together as he squints into the dark and Derek can see the moment when Stiles sees him.

“Heeeeey,” Stiles drawls and raises the hand holding the bottle in a clumsy solute. “I know you.”

Derek grunts and walks over slowly, not wanting to startle the guy. He waits until Stiles lowers his arm and takes the neck of the bottle in his teeth, easily extracting it from Stiles’ loose grip. Ignoring the yelp of protest, Derek backs away and turns toward the circle of rocks containing the fire. With a quick jerk of his head, he tosses the whiskey into the flames.

“Dude! That was – so not okay,” Stiles slurs at him, his fists pressing into the soft dirt in an attempt to stand but he can’t get the leverage, falling back on his ass. “I thought we were bros!”

Derek rolls his head, steps back over to where Stiles is and sits next to him. He puts on his most unimpressed look.

Stiles pulls a face and sighs, brushing the wet earth from his hands. “I know, I know, you don’t need to give me those eyebrows. Stop judging me. Trust me, I know I shouldn’t be drinking alone but Scotty…he was busy with Allison like he always is and I just…” Stiles sniffs and rubs a hand over his face. “He knows what day it is.”

Making a questioning noise, Derek inches closer.

“Should go,” Stiles mumbles and makes movements like he’s going to stand up. Derek jumps to his feet and gets a paw on Stiles’ leg before the kid can make it beyond a few inches. Stiles slumps down with a grunt, his expression turning to bemusement when Derek pushes him down firmly. “The hell?”

Derek looks at him and pointedly sniffs around Stiles’ mouth, the alcohol still strong on his breath.

Stiles groans and stretches out his legs in front of him, hands going behind to lean against his straightened arms. Derek takes advantage of the change in position and rests his head on Stiles’ thigh, looking up at him with raised eyebrows.

“Fine, you win,” Stiles tells him. “Not like there’s anyone at home to miss me. Dad’s got the night shift and….” Stiles stalls, clearing his throat. “It’s her birthday, you know? I mean, my dad and I spend the afternoon with her but then it’s just me in the empty house. Scott’s always there for me but this year…”

Derek makes a noise he hopes sounds like encouragement and he lets Stiles talk to him. Over an hour passes with just the sound of Stiles’ voice, soft and sometimes hesitant. The fire has died down to just a few weak embers by the time he goes quiet.

Looking up, Derek can tell that Stiles has sobered up enough to drive home safely. He reluctantly gets to his feet and steps back, letting Stiles up finally.

Stiles brushes the dirt from his pants and before moving away, he reaches down and gives Derek a gentle scratch behind his ear. “Thanks, buddy. You – just. Yeah. Thank you.” With that, Stiles makes his way back to his jeep parked nearby with steady strides.

Just as he opens the door, Stiles stops and looks back toward Derek. “Hey, you want a ride home? No reason for you to get any more wet going back through the woods.”

Derek knows he’s playing a dangerous game with Stiles. He knows he shouldn’t be seen this much when he’s shifted, there are hunters in town and he’s been told his whole life to take care who catches him like this. Knows that spending so much time running loose in the Preserve off the family property is just asking for trouble. But this kid – it’s like this kid sees Derek underneath the fur and dirty paws. Treats him like a person and there is just something so painfully appealing about that. Something that makes him believe, hope, to have a chance with a person like Stiles. Someone who can see the person Derek is in spite of (because of) the parts of him he can’t show the world.

Someone, someday. Stiles, his mind unhelpfully supplies. Not someone. Stiles.

Derek is in the passenger seat of the Jeep before he realizes what he’s doing.

He ignores the look his mother gives him when he pads his way into the house on four feet instead of two, Stiles’ jeep pulling out of the driveway beyond the front door.

**

When Stiles gets home, he is startled to see Scott sitting on the front steps. As he is climbing out of the jeep, Scott has already jumped up and run toward him, wrapping him in a tight hug before Stiles can even close the door.

“Whoa, dude,” Stiles laughs breathlessly and pats Scott on the back with one hand. “I thought you were having date night?”

Scott looks up with such a guilty expression and Stiles realizes then that Scott had remembered what day it was. “I’m so sorry,” he says earnestly. “I should have – “

“No, no dude, it’s fine,” Stiles manages to close the door to his jeep and offers a small but genuine smile. “I’m – I’m okay.”

There’s a pause while Scott looks at him carefully and as he opens is mouth to question Stiles’ statement, he frowns and leans closer, taking an obvious sniff. “Dude – tell me you weren’t drinking.” Scott catches Stiles’ embarrassed wince and jumps at him, shoving his shoulder. “Stiles! Where – how – damn it, alone? And driving?!

Stiles holds up a hand and takes a few steps away, turning toward the house. “I wasn’t alone. I was … with a friend. And he made sure I didn’t drive home until I was sobered up.”

Scott frowns but follows him, watching silently as Stiles unlocks the door and leads them inside. “Who?”

“Just – someone. A recent friend. No one you know,” Stiles tells him absently, flicking on lights as he heads to the living room. His jacket ends up on the floor somewhere along the way. “You didn’t cut your Allison Time short to come over, did you?”

Throwing himself down on the couch and digging for the remote, Scott shrugs. “I realized it was your mom’s birthday about halfway through dessert.” He waits until Stiles joins him on the couch and takes the offered game controller that Stiles had unearthed from the cushions. “I felt a little bad leaving kinda suddenly, but she totally understood. Anyway, her aunt just got into town for a visit and was staying with them, so Allison was good with me taking off so she could do the bonding thing.”

Stiles settles into the soft couch back and kicks his feet up onto the coffee table. “Thanks, though,” he mumbles, throwing a grateful smile in Scott’s direction before turning back to the game they’d started mostly out of habit rather than an actual desire to play.

**

Derek shifts gradually as he makes his way to his room. Fully back to walking on two legs, he doesn’t bother with clothing before drops onto his stomach on his bed.

This was never his intention when he had decided to take a break between graduate degrees. He only wanted to spend some time with his family. Falling for a guy who was still in high school had not been part of his plan.

A knock on his bedroom door is the only warning he gets before his mother enters. She closes it most of the way behind her, giving them the illusion of privacy. “Derek, honey. What’s going on in that head of yours?”

Derek sighs and turns his head enough to face her. “I have no idea.”

“You like him?”

He nods miserably. “He doesn’t know – about anything. About us, or that I’m the one he keeps meeting in the woods. I just….”

Talia gives him an understanding smile as she sits in his desk chair. “You can’t help who you develop feelings for,” she reminds him. “He’s a good person who comes from a family of wonderful people. I can’t say much for his survival instinct considering he has apparently befriended a strange wolf in the woods…”

Derek snorts. “I’ve tried to stay out of sight when I know he’s out there running or whatever else he does. Tonight, though – I couldn’t leave him on his own. He was…in a bad place. He needed someone to keep an eye on him.”

“You did the right thing, sweetie,” Talia tells him softly. “I’m not here to lecture you, you’re old enough to know how to make good choices and how to be careful. I’m just curious about what your intentions are toward Stiles.”

“I have no intentions,” Derek informs her moodily, knowing she can hear the lie.

Talia stands and steps over to pat him on the head. “Just keep me in the loop, okay? No running off to elope.”

“Shut up,” Derek grumbles.

She can hear the silent thank you under the tone of his voice. “And put on some clothes. You were raised by wolves, not cavemen.”

**

Saturday evening, Stiles gets a text from Scott asking if he’s doing anything. Stiles frowns, drumming at the side of his phone with two fingers. He is sure Scott had been planning to go out with Allison that night.

He taps out a response. Date night get cancelled?

A moment later another text comes through. Yeah. Family stuff. Said her aunt was taking her hunting. Think it was code for shopping.

Stiles isn’t sure why but something goes tight in his chest when he reads that. Totally weird. She say where?

Preserve.

He shoves the phone in his pocket and ignores the next texts that come in as he bolts for the door. The feeling in his chest just gets worse and somehow he knows something terrible is going to happen to the wolf.

**

Stiles has no idea what his plan is, only that he needs to find the wolf and make sure he’s safe. Figuring the best place to start is at the Hale house, he drives down the empty road through the Preserve. Halfway through, his eye catches a glint of moonlight shining off of metal and slows down until the makes out the dark shape of a black SUV parked down one of the side roads. He makes an abrupt U-turn and heads toward the vehicle that has no business being there.

Parking nearby and jumping out quickly, Stiles looks around but can’t see anyone around. He knows he is being irrational, he’s got no reason to believe that someone is out here looking to kill but he cannot ignore the feeling that has been pulling at him since Scott’s text.

Stiles listens for a moment, hoping to hear something to indicate what he should do next. After a few tries he finally hears the faint echo of voices to his left. He takes off through the trees toward the sound.

Before he can reach the source of the voices Stiles is distracted by the flash of light gray fur and soft, controlled barks as if in warning, He turns and feels a flush of relief though his body at seeing the wolf unharmed. But just as he starts to step forward to meet the fast-approaching beast, the wolf shoots forward and knocks him back. There is a terrible click and snap as the wolf lands, abruptly followed by a sharp cry from the wolf.

Shit,” Stiles hisses, regaining his balance in time to see what the wolf had saved him from. Half-buried in leaves is an animal trap, closed tightly around the wolf’s right leg. “No no no, damn it,” Stiles curses and kneels next to the trap, looking for a release. “Why would you do that?”

The wolf answers with a pained grumble that quickly turns to a growl. Stiles looks up and sees that the wolf is looking past him, so he twists his head around in time to see two approaching figures, one of them very familiar.

“Allison?”

Stiles? Oh my god, what are you doing out here?” Allison exclaims as she realizes who is out there.

Stiles shoots to his feet and steps forward between the two women and the ensnared wolf. “The hell do you think you’re doing, lady?” he snarls at the woman who must be Allison’s aunt. “This is so far beyond illegal I can’t even begin to list the laws you are breaking.”

“You have no idea what you’ve stumbled into, kid, but if you just walk away now we can all pretend you were never here,” the older woman graces him with a grin that is all teeth but never reaches her eyes.

Stiles shifts but holds his ground, tuning out the low rumbling coming from the wolf behind him. “Hunting in the Preserve. Hunting with a crossbow. Setting hidden animal traps. Hunting endangered animals,” Stiles ticks off each infraction with his fingers.

“Kate, we need to leave now,” Allison grabs her aunt’s arm and tries to pull her back.

Kate shakes her off and raises the weapon in her hand, pointing it at the wolf still mostly hidden behind Stiles. “Their kind isn’t nearly endangered enough,” she spits out and her hand tightens on the trigger.

Stiles doesn't think, he just moves. He drops down and covers the vulnerable wolf with his body and for a moment, he thinks he was wrong, that she did not fire. There is a sharp thump against back that punches the air out of his lungs and he knows.

The sound of Allison’s scream is muffled by the rapid beating of his heart in his ears. He can feel the vibration of the wolf’s growl under his chest before his legs give out and he is slipping to the ground. He can’t focus on what is happening around him, the world taking on a dull, washed-out finish.

Through the blur, Stiles sees the wolf move, the fur shift from gray softness into firm flesh, the body next to him getting bigger. The growling never stop, but changes from a sub-vocal thrum to actual words.

**

The moment Stiles takes the arrow into his back for him is the moment Derek knows he cannot hide anymore. He is shifting to human before he has even thought about what he plans to do. Instincts are taking over and his only priority is to protect Stiles.

Derek fumbles with his newly formed fingers and finds the release on the trap, freeing his right hand. The bones in his arm are crushed and the puncture wounds sluggishly trickle blood but he ignores it, knowing it has already begun healing now that he is loose. He stumbles to his feet and stands over Stiles’ unmoving body. “He’s human, you monster,” he roars, eyes flashing gold and canines still sharp against his lip.

Allison is pale and stricken, unable to comprehend what she is seeing. She staggers back when Kate pushes her, following blindly. “Stiles – no – “

Kate has already raised the bow again but Allison grabs her arm, pulling it down. “What the hell are you doing? Kate – they’re people, we have to get help – “

“Does he look like a person to you?” Kate snaps back at her niece. “We can’t leave them alive to turn us in.”

But before Derek can move, it is Allison who ends the standoff. From somewhere hidden in her clothes, she pulls out a handgun and brings it down hard against the back of Kate’s head.

Derek freezes, unsure of the young hunter. He watches as she stares down at the unconscious Kate, then slowly look up at him.

“I don’t know who you are, but Stiles is my friend,” she says, her hands shaking hard but her voice surprisingly steady. “Can you get him to help? Fast?”

“Yes,” Derek answers without hesitation. “Are you – “

Allison takes a step back, shaking her head. She is in no way all right and if she has even notice Derek’s nudity, she is not commenting on it. “I had no idea,” she mumbles to herself then looks back up at Derek. “I’m leaving her here and going back to our car. Then I’m going to call the police. Stiles – his father is the sheriff. Make sure to have someone call him.”

“I – yes, we will,” Derek tells her, shaken but fully prepared to take advantage of the sudden help. “Thank you.”

She barks out a sharp, incredulous laugh. “Shit.”

“I agree,” Derek manages before he turns back to Stiles, the sound of Allison running away fading behind him. His right arm is streaked with blood and his left hand trembles as he touches Stiles’ head gently. “Stiles?”

Stiles answers with a low moan, but his eyes blink open just enough for Derek to see a sliver of brown.

Dry, sharp sticks dig into Derek’s knees as he stoops down to get a closer look at Stiles. He can hear a rapid heartbeat and unsteady breathing, slits of pupil peeking through eyelids pressed close together. “Stiles, I need you to just stay relaxed and let me do all the work,” Derek says softly. After a weak hum that he takes as agreement, he starts getting Stiles up off the ground.

He can tell that Stiles is struggling to stay calm and fighting to not tense up but Derek can tell how much pain Stiles is in with just the first tiny movements. Derek grits his teeth and presses his hand on the bare skin of Stiles’ wrist, taking a rush of pain into himself before he tries to sit Stiles up.

Stiles whimpers sharply as Derek shifts him into a seated position, keeping his hands as far from the projecting metal shaft as he can. He can see a stain of red around the punctured fabric but the flow is stemmed by the arrow itself. He winces anyway, knowing how much that kind of injury can hurt. “You’re doing so good, Stiles,” Derek praises earnestly and tucks his knees closer so he can get a firm grip. His right hand has fully healed by now so he tucks it under Stiles’ knees, grabbing Stiles’ right arm to wrap over his own shoulders before firmly circling around Stiles’ waist with his palm flat against the left side. Making sure Stiles’ left arm is secured against his chest, Derek takes a moment to check his hold once more before raising to his feet.

There is another pained grunt as gravity pulls at Stiles’ weight and the sound tears at Derek’s heart. With Stiles secure in his grip, Derek runs.

**

Mom!” Derek shouts as he gets within sight of the house. He is doing his best not to jostle the injured man in his arms, his run slowed by his caution. As he gets closer, he can see both of his parents on the front porch.

It’s Talia who reaches them first. “Inside, now,” she instructs sharply, her hand on her son’s shoulder. She calls for Laura as they get through the door, then turns to her husband. “Mark - living room, coffee table.”

It is a flurry of motion and sharp directions as the family works together to get Stiles laid down on his side on the low table in the living room. Mark is already on the phone calling the paramedics, while Talia looks up at the others gathered. “Laura, take care of your brother. Make sure he’s not hurt and get him dressed.”

Derek shakes his head as she speaks, unable to pull his gaze from the still body on the table. “Mom, he – “

Talia gives him a look. “Derek, go. We need to get Stiles taken care of first. We can’t have the medics distracted by you covered in unexplained blood.”

There’s a sharp tug on his arm and Derek lets himself be hauled upstairs by his older sister. Laura guides him through the haze of shock, getting the blood and dirt cleaned from his body before helping him into a clean t-shirt and jeans. He barely finishes pulling on socks before they are thundering back down the stairs.

Both of their parents are on their knees next to Stiles, Talia speaking to him in low tones while Mark is on the phone nearby. Derek listens in and swallows hard when he realizes that it is the Sheriff on the other end, telling Derek’s father that he is on his way to the hospital to meet the ambulance once it arrives.

Derek watches, numb and silent, as Cora leads two paramedics into the living room and in what seems like seconds, they’ve got Stiles up on the gurney and hooked up to oxygen, an IV being taped to the back of his wrist.

“Come on,” Talia’s voice breaks through the fog and Derek turns to look at his mother’s weary expression. “We’re going to the hospital. The girls are staying here, it’ll just be you and me and your dad. We need to talk to the Sheriff about what happened.”

Feeling cold and lost, Derek only nods as he’s handed his shoes and led out to his father’s car.

**

The Sheriff looks exhausted and deeply worried, his hands restlessly shifting an empty paper coffee cup in his hands. He looks up when the Hales arrive, standing with a wince. “They’ve taken him to surgery, they said it could take a couple of hours.”

Talia goes to him and rests a comforting hand on his arm. “I’m so sorry this happened, John.”

John’s gaze sharpens and he looks at the family. “I hope you’ve got an explanation as to why my son is currently having a crossbow bolt removed from his back.”

Derek winces and swallows the lump blocking his throat. “We need to go somewhere private, sir. There’s a lot I – we - need to tell you.”

“Sure,” John nods and waves his arm up, catching the attention of a nearby nurse. “Melissa, is there somewhere we can go to talk privately?”

Leading them to an empty family waiting room, the nurse takes a moment to give John an encouraging pat on the shoulder before leaving them alone with a promise to return once she has any news. Once the door closes behind her, the four find seats in the small, silent space. John sighs deeply and looks at Talia first. “This isn’t going to be a formal interview, I can’t be involved in the official investigation. You’ll have to give statements to one of the deputies. I just need to know what happened to my son.”

Talia puts her hand on Derek’s leg in a supportive gesture. “There’s a lot more to this incident than a simple hunting accident. Derek will need to tell you exactly what happened in the woods but you also need context to understand.

“My family keeps to itself for good reason,” she continues. “As you’ve seen today, our existence draws the wrong kind of attention and leads to innocent people being hurt.” Drawing a steadying breath, she makes sure to meet John’s eyes. “We are werewolves.”

John remains silent for a long moment, his face drawing closed in confusion. “You’re serious.”

Talia releases a breath and responds with a single nod. “I wouldn’t joke at a time like this. We’ve known each other for years, you know us. But this part of ourselves, we cannot allow to be public knowledge, for obvious reasons. But today, our sons were attacked by a hunter.”

“An Argent,” Derek supplies, drawing a sharp look from his parents. “Two, actually, but I don’t think one of them knew what was happening.”

“All right,” John leans forward and rests his elbows on his knees. “I need time to work my head around that, clearly, and we will come back to the whole – werewolf thing. Derek, I need you to tell me what happened today.”

It takes nearly half an hour, but Derek describes exactly what he had heard and seen over the course of the day. The sound of people moving around in the woods, traps being set around the border of their property, hunters he had never seen before plus the Argent woman. Then Stiles, running through the trees in the dark and nearly stepping directly into one of the metal traps.

When Derek got to the end, when Allison left the scene, John straightens up sharply. “There was a call not long before you called me, Mark,” he says. “I don’t know the details, but we sent a squad car out into the Preserve to pick up a woman. My deputies hadn’t arrived at the scene yet by the time you guys called me. Is there a connection?”

“Allison said she was going to call the police, but she didn’t tell me what she was going to tell them,” Derek tells them, his fingers wringing nervously. “I honestly didn’t expect her to turn her aunt in for what she did.”

“We’ll have to get the stories from everyone involved, including Stiles,” John rubs a hand over his face. “Does Stiles know about you? About your – thing?”

Derek shakes his head. “No. At least, not before today. I’ve been running into him in the Preserve over the last few months, but I’ve always been a wolf when I’ve interacted with him. I’m not sure how much he’ll remember about me shifting after he got hit.”

“Right,” John shakes his head, looking overwhelmed. “So. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to give me some proof?”

Talia eyes him carefully. “John, we are understandably guarded about who knows our secret. The main reason we have opened up to you today is because an innocent boy was seriously hurt because he was even tangentially involved with my family. We are hunted simply because of what we are and it is for our own protection that we have not told you before. But I cannot allow my family, or those who choose to interact with us, to be endangered in the future.”

“My son, even without knowing about Derek, decided that the wolf he apparently made friends with in the woods was worthy of his protection,” John reminds her solemnly. “I trust his judgment. As you said, I’ve known you guys for years and nothing has led me to believe you are anything but a typical, loving family. None of what you’ve told me or shown me about your – alter egos? – will go on record without your permission.”

Talia studies him for a long moment and finally gives a short nod. There is a breath of pause then she lets her eyes glow red, her teeth elongating for a moment before she pulls back to normal.

“Well, shit,” John blinks, astonishingly unfazed.

**

It is another hour before there is a knock on the door and Mark is the one who opens it to find Melissa and a kind looking woman in scrubs. “Good evening, I’m Dr. Shah,” the stranger introduces herself as the room’s occupants climb to their feet in anticipation. “Sheriff Stilinski?”

“Yes,” John steps forward, knowing his work uniform has already given him away. “How’s my son?”

The doctor glances at the others in the room with a warm smile. “Would you – “

“They’re family friends, I’m fine with them hearing any updates,” John assures her, sensing her hesitation.

“Of course,” Dr. Shah nods. “Stiles is in recovery now, he’ll be monitored for a few hours there before being moved to a room. I’ll let you in to see him briefly before he is moved. We were able to remove the arrow without serious complications. He was very lucky; the arrowhead hit his shoulder blade first, which slowed it considerably before it was imbedded in the muscle. We removed bone fragments and repaired the damage to the muscle. His left arm is immobilized against his side with an elastic strap, he’ll have to rest on his side for a couple of days to keep the pressure off of the surgical site.”

It is Talia that speaks first once the doctor is finished with her report. “You may need to check him for signs of aconitine poisoning. The person who shot him is known for treating her arrowheads with it.”

With a frown, the doctor makes a note on the chart in her hands. “That’s good to know, thank you. John, I’ll come get you when it’s time to see Stiles. Please make sure to let us know if you need anything.”

“Thank you,” John tells her earnestly. “Is it all right if we keep using this room?”

“Yes, of course,” she tells them. “It is meant as a private waiting room for families, you’re welcome to use it as long as you need.” With that, she graces them with a smile and leaves, Melissa following behind.

John releases a breath and slumps down in his chair, hands clasping on top of his head. “Damn lucky kid.”

Derek follows by example and takes his own chair. His insides are still shaking but he feels much lighter knowing that Stiles will be okay. He looks up at his parents, uncertain. “So…”

It is John who picks up on his hesitation. “I can’t thank you all enough for taking care of my son,” he says softly. “I give you my word that you secret is safe with me. I appreciate you staying to tell me the truth about what happened, but I understand if you need to get home.”

“If – if it’s okay, I’d like to stay and see him once it’s allowed,” Derek says quietly. “I know it’s late…”

John smiles tiredly. “It is late and I’m a little too familiar with the visitation rules in this place. They won’t let anyone in to see him before nine tomorrow morning and knowing my kid, he won’t wake up before that anyway. Especially after the night he’s had.”

Derek straightens his back and reluctantly nods. “Of course, you’re right. Can you – I mean, if he does wake up before morning, let him know I’d like to see him?”

“I’ll do that,” John replies as he stands. “Can I get your cell number so I can text you when he’s ready to have visitors?”

“Yeah,” Derek agrees readily and pulls out his phone to exchange numbers.

After another few moments of relieved small talk, the Hales finally leave the hospital. Derek knows he won’t be able to sleep, anxious to talk to Stiles in the morning.

He has no idea what to say to Stiles, has no idea what Stiles saw or how much he remembers. But Derek knows his time is up and he will need to come clean about who he is.

**

Derek gets a text at nine-thirty the following morning and barely manages to throw a greeting in his family’s general direction before he is out the door.

His stomach is a ball of nerves as he knocks on the door to the room number John had texted him. He hears a quiet acknowledgement to enter and smiles at the thought that the Sheriff has already figured out how to take advantage of his sensitive hearing. Derek pushes the door open and sticks his head in, greeted by the sight of Stiles on his side facing the door, a doped-up grin on his pale face. “Hey,” Derek says with a pleased smile. “You’re awake.”

“And you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do,” Stiles points at him with his right hand, still resting on the bed and taped up with IV needles. His left arm is immobilized against his side, as promised. “I know what I saw and Dad won’t answer my very, very….mostly reasonable questions.”

Derek laughs softly and exchanges a grin with John. “You are so high right now,” he accuses gently. “We might have to repeat this conversation in a few days but you’re right. I do owe you an explanation.”

John stands and thumps Derek on the shoulder as he passes. “I need some coffee after having to deal with my son on morphine. Behave, boys.” He gives Derek a wink and leaves them alone.

Taking the abandoned chair next to the bed, Derek leans in and rests his arms on the metal rails. He takes in the ashen skin, limp hair and shallow breathing, aided by an oxygen line under Stiles’ nose. “How’re you feeling?”

Stiles hums softly in answer. “Could be much worse, or so they tell me.”

Derek swallows hard. “Yeah. It was – god, Stiles, you scared the hell out of me.”

There is a pause and then Stiles taps his fingers against Derek’s wrist. “So what I saw. That happened, huh?”

“Yeah,” Derek answers honestly.

“This is so weird, you know?” Stiles tells him in a hushed voice. “I feel like, we only barely met once when I smashed your face in with a door but we also kind of bonded out on the woods. You totally had my back and I didn’t even know it was you. You, my wolfy friend, are a mystery that got eaten by a furry conundrum.”

Derek chuckles and shrugs self-consciously. “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you before. You saw how dangerous it is for us out in the open.”

“Then why did you keep going out there? You didn’t have to keep showing yourself like that.” Stiles asks with an undertone of concern.

Derek ducks his head sheepishly. “You…you intrigued me,” he admits, feeling his cheeks flushing. “I kept seeing you running or doing other less than intelligent things and I couldn’t just stay hidden.”

Stiles considers him wordlessly, then tucks his fingers loosely into Derek’s palm, who grips them obediently. “I’m glad you didn’t,” Stiles informs him with a smile.

“You got hurt because of me,” Derek reminds him.

“Still don’t regret it,” Stiles manages to convey a shrug with his eyebrows. “You’re my wolfy buddy.”

Derek huffs a laugh. “I suppose I am,” he says with a grin.

Stiles gives another pleased hum. “So when you say I intrigued you…?”

“Just what it sounds like,” Derek answers.

After a moment of consideration, Stiles slowly grins. “You had a crush on me.”

Derek growls softly but doesn’t deny the truth of it. “Don’t know why now.” His tone betrays his affection but his next thought is cut off by a sudden yawn. “Sorry.”

“Late night,” Stiles mumbles drowsily and pokes at Derek’s palm absently.

“Couldn’t sleep,” Derek admits sheepishly. “Worried about you.”

“That’s sweet. You do look like a bit of a mess. How long have those crumbs been in your stubble?” Stiles asks and Derek quickly swipes at his face with his free hand, making Stiles choke out a weak laugh. “You are so gullible.”

“You are such an asshole,” Derek laughs.

“You’re the one who was raised by wolves,” Stiles shoots back. “Oh, hey! I was kind of right – your family does raise wolves.”

Derek snorts. “Just the three of us,” he corrects.

Stiles settles down and his eyes start to drift closed. “So, hey. Since we have this whole mutual like thing happening. You know I’m graduating in like, a few months right?”

Derek frowns at the sudden change of topic. “Yeah?”

“Starting my undergrad at Berkeley,” Stiles continues casually.

“You’re – really?” Derek raises his eyebrows. “That’s – “

Stiles smiles sleepily. “…where you’re going back for your Ph.D.? Yeah. I remember Cora mentioning it in school. So we’ll be at the same place, at the same time…”

Derek shakes his head ruefully. “This is a very roundabout way to ask me out.”

“Well, you sure weren’t getting around to it,” Stiles grumbles and pokes his fingers into Derek’s palm. “Oh, hey! You live near campus?”

“Apartment on the east side, yeah.”

“Nice. Need a roommate?” Stiles wiggles his eyebrows suggestively.

“Nice try,” Derek laughs. “How about you spend your freshman year in the dorms like a normal person and we spend some time actually getting to know each other. You know, with me talking this time.”

Stiles pretends to give it due consideration. “That’ll take some getting used to.”

“Yeah,” Derek agrees. “But we’ve got time.”

**

There is no better feeling after two exhausting, uncomfortable days spent in the hospital than catching the first sight of his house.

Except, perhaps, the unexpected but very welcome addition of Derek Hale sitting patiently on the front porch steps.

Stiles slides carefully out of the passenger seat of his father's patrol car and waves across the short distance. "Hey," he calls out, offering a goofy smile before reaching back to close the door. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see his father already making his way around the car to help.

It is Derek who reaches him first, his arms wrapping so gently around Stiles that he can't help but press his grin into the fabric covering Derek's shoulder. He feels one strong arm curl around his waist, a hand palming the back of his head.

"Good to see you home," Derek murmurs against his hair before dropping a kiss in the same place.

Stiles feels the shiver of amazement as he returns the hold with his free arm, the other still bound tightly against his side. There's a dull ache in the back of his shoulder, but it has definitely improved in the last day. Having Derek around as much as was allowed has done wonders for his recovery - the company more so than the promise of supernatural pain relief. "Thanks for being here."

Another tiny kiss to his head and Derek pulls back, accepting the extended hand from the Sheriff in a firm shake. "I hope you don't mind me crashing the welcome home party."

"Well, you probably notice that you're it, since I told the rest of his friends to give us a day or two to get him settled," John replies with a smirk. "But since you're here, the three of us can have a talk."

Stiles moans dramatically but allows the other two to lead him slowly into the house. He settles obediently on the couch and wrinkles his nose as his father fusses over him, tucking pillows and pulling off Stiles' shoes. "Not an invalid anymore."

"Enjoy it while it lasts, kiddo," John ruffles his hair but acquiesces to flapping hand batting at him to go sit down already.

Derek takes a seat next to Stiles but leaves a good foot of space in between. He ignores the look Stiles gives him and focuses on John, now seated in the armchair nearby. "So."

"So," John echoes. "I know you boys have spent the last couple of days getting to know each other - for real, this time - and I thought it would be a good time to start setting ground rules."

Stiles looks at his father in horror. "Dad, no, seriously - I'm eighteen. I'm pretty sure you've given me The Talk every year since I was twelve. Please spare me the humiliation of a repeat performance in front of my - my friend."

John raises an eyebrow. "First, I would like to note that I'm pretty sure none of our little talks covered this particularly ridiculous situation. But no, I'll hold onto that one until we're alone. Second - if you think those talks are any less uncomfortable for me than they are for you, then just wait until you have a teenage boy of your own."

There's a muffled snort from Derek and both Stilinskis turn to him. Derek blushes deeply, clearing his throat. "Pretty sure none of your talks included warnings about the importance of control of canines and claws during 'intimate moments'."

Stiles gapes at him. "No. No, they did not."

"...right," John coughs out. "Let's - save that one for another day. Very, very far into the future. And after I've had an extremely uncomfortable chat with your father." He shakes his head in disbelief and scratches his neck awkwardly. "I just wanted to set some basic dating rules for right now. Derek, you know Stiles has a couple of months left of high school, then he's planning on working this summer at the station. I trust my son to keep his priorities straight and from what I've gathered from the limited exposure I've had to you, I feel that I can trust the same of you."

"Yes, sir," Derek answers solemnly.

"That means going out together no more than once a week, no school nights or before early work days. I want the both of you here for dinner at least once a week."

Derek nods in agreement. "I'm sure my parents would expect the same, but I'll speak to them about it later and let you know."

Stiles watches silently as his father and his….something….hash out the details of his next few months. Normally, he would have a lot more input on the whole thing but he is just too tired to throw in on the negotiations. Besides, in the long run he gets Derek out of the deal so he can’t complain.

The voices eventually fade and just as he is about to fall asleep, he feels the cushions dip with shifting weight next to him and a warm, muscular arm drop down along the back of the couch behind his head. Stiles lets his head loll back and tuck into Derek’s shoulder, closing his eyes and drifting to sleep to the steady beat under his ear.

**

Epilogue

Derek is, of course, there the day Stiles moves into the dorms, his scholarship earning him a single room so he did not have to deal with a roommate. Which is just as well, as Derek has already forbidden him from spending more than one night a week at his apartment. There are boxes everywhere, the bed is still a bare mattress and the window is open to allow a breeze to cut through the stifling late summer heat. Derek sits on the bed and leans back against the wall, more content than he had been expecting considering he is about to start another four years of graduate school while his boyfriend is just entering his freshman year.

They are both looking forward to the new school year and having a fresh start.

The trial that sent Kate Argent to prison was short; too much evidence and too many witnesses meant a majority of the arguments took place behind closed doors. Derek had hated having to relive that day so many times, but the end result was worth it. The Hale family gained a new ally in the Sheriff, as well as the probability of extended family in the future.

Stiles had been true to his word, taking Derek out at least a couple of times a month, several other nights were spent at either of their houses having family dinners. Both the Hales and Sheriff Stilinski were incredibly supportive of their new relationship, making it that much easier for the two men to bond more quickly than they expected.

There were times that Derek was thrown completely off-kilter by how comfortable they were together after only six months of officially dating. They may as well have been a couple for years for their level of ease and affectionate teasing.

“You are not putting this up,” Derek informs Stiles flatly as he holds up a tattered poster featuring Duran Duran.

Stiles bounces and sings “Hungry like the wolf,” off-key and delighted. “Laura gave it to me as a going away present and I shall indeed give it the proper home on my empty, empty walls.”

Derek groans and thumps his head against the wall. “I should have known.”

“And what goes on under that poster is something your sister will never know.”

Stiles laughs as Derek tackles him to the bed, neither caring about the lack of bedding. Derek plants a firm kiss on Stiles’ lips and cackles at the way Stiles’ eyes cross. “I love you, but please never mention either of my sisters when I’m in your bed.”

There is a long breathless moment where they both realize what Derek said before Stiles slowly smiles, his whole face lighting up. He reaches up and scratches his nails lightly though Derek’s hair. “Love you too,” he says warmly. “And because I love you, I’ll refrain from pointing out how much you weigh and just suggest that we finish up this whole moving-in thing. Maybe find some sheets. And other…things that may or may not have been purchased on my way here.”

Derek gives a thoughtful hum. “I suppose the more we get done now, the more time we’ll have later.” With that, he drops one last, quick peck on Stiles’ lips and pushes himself up to his feet. “Just make sure the ‘other things’ don’t get lost in the clutter.”

“No worries,” Stiles bounces up and snags a plastic bag from the windowsill and sets it decisively on the end of the bed. “Priorities, man.”

There is a bright flash of gold from Derek’s eyes that signal his agreement on the subject. They share grins full of promise and make quick work of unpacking the scattered boxes.

They also make an impressive dent in the supplies Stiles picked up.

**

End