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Regression to the Mean

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"You can’t keep doing this, Stiles.”

It’s warm for early December – Stiles’ breaths ghosting out, barely visible in the night-darkened air. There have been worse nights than this, nights huddled, shuddering, in the frost-covered grass, knees curled against his chest, arms wrapped tight around half-numb legs. It’s almost nice out here in the quiet, the way he can blame his quaking body on the cold.

He might fall asleep here. It wouldn’t be the first time.

If he wakes up screaming in the graveyard, the only ones he’ll bother are the dead.

There a shift of movement in front of him – feet crunching softly over browning grass, weight shifting as the body comes to crouch in front of him.


“Visiting hours end at sunset, Scott.”

He doesn’t open his eyes, doesn’t want to see what he knows he’ll find there. The same look he’s been seeing for weeks now – shades of it in Scott’s eyes, Lydia’s. His dad’s. On the faces of people around school who don’t even know half the story.

Crazy Stiles started having breakdowns in class. Crazy Stiles spent time at Eichen House. Crazy Stiles went insane and now two of his friends are dead.

He can’t look; he can’t see it, can’t deal with it right now. He focuses instead on the press of the headstone behind him – the solid pressure, the coldness seeping straight through his jacket. If he focuses hard enough, he almost imagines he can feel the grooves of the etched promise burning into his skin.

Nous protégeons ceux qui ne peuvent pas se protéger eux-mêmes.

A code to live and die by.

Scott’s voice floats through the quiet space between them, painfully soft.

“Yeah, visiting hours are over, dude. So what are you doing here?”

He wants to shrink away from the concern, to snap at it. To find a six foot hole and cover himself in dirt to escape it.

…A tiny, screaming part of him wants to put on a smile, grab his friend’s arm and lead him out of here. Maybe grab a pizza, play video games for a while. Be ok, because Scott deserves that. Scott’s the one who really lost something here, whose life the Nogitsu—no.

Scott’s the one who should be breaking apart right now, but here Stiles sits in a huddled ball of self-pity, forcing Scott to worry, to take more onto his shoulders. To track him, in the middle of the night, to his first love’s grave.

Stiles finally forces his eyes open – he owes Scott that much. And there’s that look in those eyes: painfully careful, wary, worried. Hand out and hovering by Stiles’ elbow like he’s afraid a simple touch might shatter him. Wondering what the hell’s wrong with him, why he isn’t getting better. …If he’s broken beyond repair.

Stiles’ attempt at a smile twists into something shaky. He wants to break the tension, digs for a clever line, a self-deprecating joke, anything to pull them out of this fragile space and back on track. Instead what slips out, entirely too faint and vulnerable, is:

“Who says I’m visiting?”

It seems to take Scott too long to register the words. Stiles is already scrambling for a way to take them back, to cover them up, as his friend’s eyes flick over Stiles’ face, to the stone behind him. As he flinches back, hand clenching in the open air, as though he’s not sure whether he wants to grab Stiles’ arm and drag him out of here, or punch him.

He’d deserve it. He’d deserve worse.

His hands shaping bombs, explosives, and laying them carefully in wait. The creature had only known how to create them because of Stiles’ mind, his memories, his compulsive tendency to research useless trivia. His body tricking and lying its way in to where he could do the most damage. His hand twisting a blade deeper into Scott’s chest – the same blade that had ended Allison’s life, Aiden’s.

This graveyard’s a hell of a lot fuller than it was in October, and that’s his fault.

But Scott’s expression is shattering, and he hadn’t wanted that. Scott hadn’t deserved that.

“Sorry man, I didn’t—“

“No, you didn’t.” Scott’s backing out of Stiles’ space, pushing himself back to his feet. “You didn’t die, Stiles, and you don’t… you don’t get to sit out in a graveyard acting like you belong here. Because some people don’t get the chance to walk out anymore.”

He’s seen Scott like this before, this righteously angry. Seen it directed at his enemies, his father. It’s never been him, though, and he feels sick under the weight of it. Stiles is sharply aware, suddenly, that Allison’s name is etched out right over his shoulder. That Allison’s body is resting right under their feet, only six feet of cold dirt and a hole in the chest separating them.

Scott’s gaze goes down, his thoughts clearly on the same track.

“You can’t keep doing this, Stiles. Do you have any idea what it’s like when you disappear in the middle of the night? Do you know what that does to your dad?”

He knows. But he knows what the nightmares do too. He knows what hovering around the house, the forced chipper small talk, the attempts at being normal when nothing inside him feels normal, does. His dad constantly watching what he does, what he says, to make sure the words don’t hurt Stiles. Being away from them, isolating himself… it’s better for them. They’re all healing; they’re making progress. Being around him just leads to… to this. To backsliding, anger. Scott holding himself back or shaking angrily, or worrying, or Stiles saying the wrong thing and…

He feels like he should maybe say that, get it out somehow, but Scott’s shoulders are tense and his expression is pained and vulnerable, and Allison’s body is resting right under their feet and he’s done enough to wreck his friend tonight. His eyes fall to somewhere around Scott’s knees.

“Yeah. I know, man. Sorry.”

“That’s not…” Scott’s tension is easing out of him, shoulders slumping. “I don’t want you to apologize, Stiles. I just want you to get better.”

“I’m getting better. I’ll be better.” If he says it enough he’ll probably start believing it, right? He forces a smile. It feels too big, uncomfortable, like an ill-fitting mask, but he holds it there anyway. Gaze caught somewhere around Scott’s slowly unclenching hand. “Hey, how about a New Years’ resolution. Next year let’s not have any crazy Alphas, druids, monsters, or dark alter egos try to kill us, alright? No kidnappings, no epic battles. Just school, lacrosse, video games. We make a pact on it; first one to break it has to buy the other a soda.”

Scott snorts, hands sliding into his pockets.

“Just a soda?”

“Well, I was gonna say a new X-box but I didn’t want to do that to you, man. We both know you’re the troublemaker around here.”

When he risks a glance up Scott’s smiling, and something in Stiles’ chest starts to uncoil. And for all of about a second and a half things feel almost normal. Until Scott shoves his hands in his coat and his gaze drops, wincing.

“Have you heard from Derek at all lately?”

Which, hello random non-sequitur. Stiles huffs right back at him – a surprised little breath that’s amused, ironic, and not slightly approaching bitter.

“Does anyone ever actually hear from Derek? He’s kind of a ‘show up during a crisis, then disappear for months at a time’ kind of wolf, isn’t he?”

Scott grimaces, pulling something small and gleaming out of his pocket. It looks like…

A bullet casing.

“So that was about twelve seconds, our pact held up?”


It’s the third night, in the aftermath of the Nogitune. There are a thousand things that need doing – arrangements to be made. Explanations and cover ups. Securing a safe place for the triskele box. Organizing a proper, wolf funeral for Aiden. Which they had all attended – a little awkwardly, a little unsure for the most part. In Stiles’ eyes he was still part of the Alpha pack that had given them hell for months last summer, who had helped kidnap and kill Boyd and Erica, who’d dated Lydia to mess with the pack.

But he’d died fighting for them, and he deserved some small courtesy at least.

They’ve all been kept too busy to think, to feel, to do anything to really, actually process. And maybe that’s for the best. But it’s nearly midnight now and his dad – after finding half a dozen reasons just to casually drop in on Stiles’ bedroom, the same way he’s done every night up ‘til now – has finally fallen asleep.

And Stiles is left, edgy and restless, with his thoughts and his shadowed room. Barely on his bed for two minutes before he’s back on his feet, organizing old notes, sorting out his laundry… god, when’s the last time he’d dusted in here, he should really— “What the hell, Derek?”

The man’s – the total, lurking creeper’s  - lips tilt in a faint approximation of a smirk. Stiles scowls, arms loaded up with t-shirts and a textbook and an old sock he’s started using as a makeshift dust rag.

“No seriously. At least knock on the window before you start lurking in corners, what the hell?”

“You look better.”

It comes out faint, soft, that little fond half-smile still on his lips. His hands are in his pockets, his head tilted down, and Stiles thinks maybe he actually seems apologetic for freaking him out. But Stiles’ heart is racing, images of dark spaces and bandage-covered monsters doing their demonic, twitchy break dances under his eyelids, and he feels himself bristling against the soft tone.

“Than when I was possessed by a murderous firefly hellspawn, or having the life drained out of me? Yeah, I’d hope so.”

The dirty clothes are still in his arms. He drops them in a careless pile – papers, books and all – in the nearest corner.

“It won’t last if you don’t sleep.”

He snorts, wondering vaguely what to do with his hands. They slide into his pockets before he realizes he’s mirroring Derek’s stance, and crosses his arms instead.

“Thank you, Doctor Derek. But I didn’t order a home consultation, so…”

He trails off, half expectant, half just not knowing what to say. Derek’s never exactly been Mr. ‘Just Showing Up For A Casual Hangout’ but he doesn’t seem to be here for anything specific. He shifts a little further into the room and pauses again, just looking.

It’s a heavy gaze, but not like the ones he’s been getting from the others – half wary, like they’re remembering a few seconds late that his face doesn’t belong to The Enemy anymore. Half cautious, like he’s something that will break the first time they press him.

Derek’s eyes are something different. Not assessing or worried, just…

“How’d you even know I’d be up?”

Derek shrugs, jaw moving soundlessly for a moment before it slips out, simple and obvious:

“I would be.”

Stiles blinks too hard and finds himself looking away.

“So you came all the way over here because you thought I might—“

Derek shifts sharply, cutting Stiles off a few seconds before the bedroom door flies open. His dad’s standing there: flannel pajama bottoms, white t-shirt, and a gun in his hands. He freezes at the sight in front of him, and Stiles figures whatever nighttime intruder his Dad was expecting, Derek probably hadn’t been it.


It’s not as awkward as it might’ve been a few months ago. Helping track down and battle the demon within a guy’s possessed son will probably do that to a relationship. Derek doesn’t flinch, just offers a clipped nod.

“Sheriff. I was just—” He cuts off, and after a few seconds of awkward tension his gaze slides back to Stiles. “I just… it’s good to see you.”

And it’s not until he says it that it occurs to Stiles just how long it’s been since he’s actually really spoken to Derek. Really seen him as himself, with his own two unpossessed-by-a-demonic-firefly eyes. He’d been there at Aiden’s funeral, at Allison’s, but there hadn’t been time to speak then. To offer more than a quick glance or a nod in between focusing on Scott, on Lydia, on helping with the arrangements.

They probably haven’t spoken since… hell, since before he left. Since Jennifer Blake. Since the last disaster to hit their lives, when Stiles had basically been blaming Derek for getting his dad captured.

He nods a little, throat feeling strangely tight. Like his next words are suddenly important, like they need to mean something bigger. An apology, a thank you for coming back and helping out, a few choice words for leaving Beacon Hills the way he had in the first place. Too many words gone unspoken, too long for most of them to really matter anymore, and Derek’s lips do this little quirking dance thing like he knows exactly what’s going through Stiles’ head.

That makes one of them.

“I’m gonna go,” he says, and the Sheriff cuts in quickly with a too-gruff “That’s probably a good idea.”

“Sorry for waking you, Sheriff. And Stiles, if you ever want to…” He trails off, one hand coming up and waving vaguely, seeming to encapsulate anything and everything. It doesn’t sound like an empty offer, and somehow it doesn’t sound like pity either (because honestly, with Derek’s life, how could the man possibly pity anyone?)

There aren’t really words for this – “sure, dude. Let’s hang out sometime and bond over the fact that our lives suck and we’ve both basically killed a bunch of people by accident” somehow doesn’t roll off the tongue.

Stiles just finds himself nodding, quick and tight-jawed, as Derek shifts back to duck out the window.


His first day back at school is a disaster of forced camaraderie – too bright smiles and wary side glances, huddling together at the lunch table and avoiding the curious eyes of the rest of the school. Home is too empty, too filled with loud thoughts. He finds himself standing at the loft instead, but Derek isn’t there. The empty space leaves him feeling edgy, memories of handcuffs snapping, raised guns and his dad’s shaking voice, Derek flying backward like he weighs less than nothing, hitting the wall with a crack that would’ve snapped a human’s spine… He beats out a fast retreat, and finds himself in the graveyard instead.

He texts Derek a few times after that – absent little things, when the voices in his head get too loud – and he tries not to take it personally when they go unacknowledged.


Derek’s missing, it turns out. Not ignoring Stiles, not reneging on his vague half-promise to be there, whatever that actually means.

Not popping down to South America to visit Cora either, and Stiles almost regrets the decision to call her when she starts talking about dropping everything to come back and help search for him.

“We don’t even know if he’s actually missing, ok? He could’ve gotten a sudden urge for a Vegas week or something.”

The stray bullet casing, and what Scott declares to be “the scent of fresher cement” in the loft pretty much kills the idea of Vegas week. And two weeks and a nightmare haze of searching later, they’re in Mexico, pulling a weakened Derek away from Kate Argent’s burning corpse.


The Derek they rescue in Mexico is unnervingly unlike any Stiles has encountered before. He’s seen the guy in the aftermath of his sister’s death – closed off and angry. As a new Alpha adjusting (terribly, let’s be honest) to the power suddenly thrust on him. His seen him betrayed more than once by someone he’d thought he loved, seen him return to town softer, more confident, more at home in his own skin in the days before his disappearance.

He’s seen Derek snarky, sarcastic, annoyed, amused. Seen him bleeding out, sick from wolfsbane poisoning, hollowed out with wet eyes and Boyd’s blood on his hands.

But this Derek, the Derek whose eyes slide too slowly between their faces and the action, who just stands there watching blankly when Stiles skids up and starts fumbling with the lock to the steel cuffs, who looks at him like he isn’t sure he recognizes him, or recognizes anything, or cares whether Stiles works him free at all…

Scott and Kira battle a blue-faced, snarling Kate in the background, and Derek watches like he’s not sure it’s actually happening at all.

Which would actually kind of make sense because werejaguar? Really?

“You owe me and Scott a soda, by the way.” He says it for something to say, to fill the silence between them as he fumbles with the swiped keys. Expects a snort or a “what” or maybe a “Stiles, stop rambling nonsense and get me out of here before Kate pops over and rips your throat out, with her teeth.”

He gets exactly jack. Not to worry though, he’s always been a master at filling empty air.

“It took forever to find you, dude. And I’m honestly only fifty percent sure my car’s gonna survive the trip home with all that desert sand getting under her engine, ‘cause we were doing some serious off-roading for a while toward the end there. Which begs the kind of obvious question of why the hell can’t the villains just kidnap people to a halfway convenient location? I mean, an ancient temple in the heart of Mexico, really Kate? Was that just for the ambiance or—“

The cuff finally clicks free around the same time Derek, sounding painfully unsure, murmurs “Stiles?”

It comes out gruff, voice grating like it hasn’t been used in weeks.

Or like it’s been being used for nothing but screaming.

“Yeah, man.”

There’s blood crusted to his clothes, not enough to seriously worry Stiles because it looks like the wounds are all healed. But Derek still seems too pale, shaky on his feet. He flinches when Stiles’ hand goes out to brace his shoulder, looking down fast like he’s not sure where the touch had come from.

For a few seconds they just stand like that – staring down at the hand barely bracing Derek’s arm. There are all kinds of seriously intense ‘don’t touch me’ vibes hovering around the other man. Like… last January, leather jacket wearing, threatening to murder Stiles at the first wrong word vibes. But this isn’t last January, and Stiles has seen too much to be scared away now by a set of tense shoulders.

“Hey, Derek…” He sees the guy retreating again, right in front of his eyes. That spark that had come out when he’d said Stiles name being tugged back behind a steel door in his mind and pulled shut.

He’s been here for over a month, going through who the hell knows what. Being rescued all of a sudden is probably gonna throw a guy.

“Hey,” Stiles says again, smoothes his hand down the bloodied shirt toward Derek’s elbow. “You can get all blubbery thanking us later, ok? We need to—“

He’s being flung away to the side, slamming into the floor with an impact that screams straight up his arm. And fuck, Derek’s gone feral or something because he’d pushed Stiles without warning and now he’s snarling out some inhuman sound and… seriously? Stiles had only been trying to help the guy out. He definitely owes Scott an apology for all the times he’s bitten his head off in the past few weeks for no reason. And now Derek’s probably about to bite his head off literally, and…

…Stiles seriously should’ve known better than to try comforting Derek Hale.

But Derek’s not snarling at Stiles. When he pushes himself up, shaking out his arm because ow, he catches sight of a bloodied, wolfed-out and raging Derek grappling with Kate in the center of the room. Scott and Kira are out of sight, Lydia’s standing frozen in the opposite corner. Derek’s claws have sunk in somewhere around Kate’s ribs and she’s laughing, the sick fucker, like they’re having a great time, like they’re out dancing or something. Heedless of the claws, she sways in close to murmur something against Derek’s ear that makes him startle and go still.

Feral Derek’s gone in an instant, that glassy-eyed version standing there in his place. And Kate doesn’t waste a second, one clawed hand swiping out toward his throat, a fresh, wild laugh spilling from her bloody lips... And then she freezes, hand dropping, whole body going sharply tense and then limp.

The tip of a long blade protrudes from her chest.

After a breathless second the katana draws back and Kate drops. Kira stands just behind her, seeming as startled as if the sword had made the killing blow on its own. Then she shakes her head, startling herself out of it.

“Does this mean I’m the were-jaguar now? That’s how that works, right?”

Stiles lets out a startled little snort. Scott appears behind Kira, tugging her close and wrapping her in a fierce hug. She lets her sword drop and grips him back tightly, laughing out breathless relief. She seems about as pleased as someone like Kira can a few seconds after they’ve killed someone – even a psychotic should be dead supervillain – and it’s almost a sweet moment, honestly. Scott and Kira haven’t really touched since that painfully awkward hug at Allison’s funeral.

…If Stiles had been any kind of a friend recently, he probably would’ve talked to Scott about that.

A few heartbeats later, Lydia moves forward.

“No chances this time. We burn the body.”

Derek doesn’t react, doesn’t speak, doesn’t move. Just stands there, swaying unsteadily with strangely vacant eyes while Kate’s body goes up in flames.


They decide to head straight back to Beacon Hills, despite the late hour and the nearly twenty hour car ride ahead of them. Stiles has reluctantly given up the wheel, having taken the last shift driving down (taken the majority of the drive down, actually, ever since his first attempt at sleeping had resulted in nearly clawing Kira’s face with his bare hands as she tried to shake him out of a nightmare). Scott’s driving now, Kira huddled in the passenger’s seat next to him. She falls asleep fast, or at least pretends to, and Scott keeps looking away from the road to watch her with a startled sort of expression, like he hasn’t really been seeing her, registering her, and suddenly can’t realize how he’d managed such a huge oversight.

About three hours into the drive, just when exhaustion is finally starting to get the better of him, Stiles feels something jostle against his hand.

He doesn’t move at first, sleepy and comfortable and pleasantly worn out in a way he can’t remember being in months. He thinks he might actually be able to fall asleep like this, surrounded by his friends, the rattle of his Jeep bouncing along the (finally paved again) roads, a serious victory finally in their corner. Rescue mission a win, Kate gone, and no messy casualties along the way. That’s… honestly he can’t remember the last time they’ve been this lucky.

He could sleep now, and might not even wake up screaming.

But the hold on his wrist shifts, knuckles brushing up his fingers, and he finally allows his eyes to slit back open. It’s Derek, obviously – Derek’s the one on that side of him, Stiles sitting, head lolled back, between him and Lydia. He’s holding Stiles’ wrist in a strangely tentative grip and staring down at his hand. There’s a look on his face, brows furrowed and focused, seeming more present than he has been all night.

“Hey,” It slips out, soft, before Stiles has even fully decided to speak. “You back with us?”

He half expects Derek to withdraw, drop his hold and pretend nothing had happened, but his hand just clenches a little bit harder. His eyes float up and then shoot back down quickly, like there are answers in Stiles’ fingers that he won’t find in his eyes.

And… oh. Oh.

When he speaks this time, it doesn’t come out as a question: “Derek, you’re back with us.”

He splays out his fingers a little, making it easier for Derek to see. To count.

Who knew that bit of randomly googled trivia would start coming in so damn useful?

…Who knew Derek had even been listening last summer when he’d rattled it out?

Derek takes his time staring down at the long digits, breaths coming out slow and with pointed steadiness. When he looks back up again, his eyes are sparking with something Stiles can’t quite identify. Open, a little vulnerable, that hard shell cracking tentatively open. It makes Stiles feel a little like flinching away, a little like twisting his wrist until he can thread his fingers through Derek’s, press those five digits straight into his skin until he’s sure they’re really there.

He settles for sitting still and watching while Derek’s lips part, jaw working. Finally:

“Why did you come?”

…And what the hell kind of question is that? Stiles’ eyes roll.

“Well, you know, we just felt like having a road trip. And we figured ‘hey, while we’re in Mexico, why not swing by and save Derek from the evil not-so-dead hunter who’d kidnapped him?’ You know, since it was on the way and all.”

Derek’s obviously still not on his A game, because he just blinks blankly back at him. Stiles isn’t even sure the guy’s really registering the words. Scott, from the driver’s seat, intones gently: “Pack looks after each other, Derek.”

It’s kind of huge and kind of not all at the same time. After six months of insisting he wanted nothing to do with Derek or his pack, they’d ended up falling together too many times, watching each others’ backs too often, suffered too many losses together to think of each other as anything else. They might not be a conventional pack, the way Derek had wanted at first, but the end result was the same.

The easy words finally get a reaction, even if it’s just a too hard swallow, a dismissive huff, and Derek’s eyes going determinedly back out the window.

Stiles catches Scott’s gaze in the rearview mirror, the Alpha’s lips pursing thoughtfully. A few minutes pass in too tense silence – the girls shifting faintly in their sleep (or at least having the courtesy to pretend to be asleep) – before Scott cuts in again, soft enough that Stiles can barely hear it:

“What did Kate want you for, anyway?”

It’s a fair question. ‘To sadistically torture him like the evil freak she was’ would be the obvious answer, but the whole trip to an ancient temple in Mexico thing seems like a big effort just for a settling old-fashioned inter-family feud.

A few more miles rattle past before Derek’s shoulders twitch. Stiles can feel the strained motion through their still touching hands.

“I don’t know. All she said was that I’d be helping her. Whatever it was, you got there first.”

“So you’re ok? I mean, you don’t smell injured, but if she did something else to you—“ Scott’s fishing for something he can do to help, some active move he can make to pull some of that tension out of Derek’s skin, the deadness from his eyes. It’s familiar in a way Stiles wants to hug his friend for, also kind of wants to swat at.

It’s strange seeing it from the outside like this, after so many weeks of being the focus of Scott’s attempts at comfort.

“I’m fine,” Derek grits out, sounding anything but. “I’ll be fine.” And then another pause, a little tense squeeze against Stiles’ wrist, before, barely audible: “thank you.”

Scott seems pleased enough at that as he chirps back a “No problem, man” and turns his attention back to the road.

And Derek’s hand doesn’t drop from Stiles’ own. Every dozen miles or so Stiles feels him startle, look back down again. Why it’s Stiles’ hand the guy’s latched onto instead of just using his own, Stiles can’t guess, but he’s not going to begrudge him the contact. And after the fourth time he gives in to his instincts, turns his hand and threads their fingers together. He feels Derek jump again, then slowly resettle as Stiles starts pressing, one digit at a time, into Derek’s knuckles, setting a steady rhythm both of them can count by. When he finally risks a look over, Derek’s gaze is back on the empty desert like before, but some of the tension has worked out of his jaw.

Stiles falls asleep at some point, lulled by his own silent five count, and wakes up gently around dawn, more rested than he’s felt in weeks.


The thing about the Search For Derek is that it gives Stiles something to focus on. Gives his brain a place to go that isn’t backwards, back into bandaged demons in bomber jackets, nightmare memories of internment camps that aren’t even his own, to riddling words and a locked door with his dad on the other side of it. His own eyes staring back at him with a weight of sin so old Stiles can’t drag himself out of the depths.

And the blood on his hands, blood that won’t ever scrub clean. How the hell can he hug his dad, clap Scott on the shoulder, be in Lydia’s presence at all without the risk of marring them with all that blood?

He doesn’t go back to the graveyard again after that night. Scott’s right – sitting there, playing like he’s already dead, that’s just an insult to people like Allison who really sacrificed something. But home means waking his dad up in the middle of the night, means tip-toeing around him at breakfast, trying not to notice the bags under the man’s eyes, only getting darker even though the danger’s passed.

Derek’s disappearance gives Stiles something to think about that’s not his own shortcomings, and at some point, after he, Scott, and Lydia spend the day at the loft trying to trace the symbol on the bullet casing, it somehow makes sense for Stiles to just… not leave.

He still wakes up screaming in Derek’s bed, but there’s no one else around to be bothered by it. And when sleep escapes him altogether he can just go right back to work mapping.

He gets a hell of a lot figured out late at night.


“It smells like you here.”

It comes out, low and uncertain, after five minutes of stretching silence.

They’d all gone with Derek back to the loft, and then hovered around tentatively while Derek drifted through the space, taking in the familiar and the unfamiliar, touching sections of wall seemingly at random. Frowning and smoothing his thumb over stray sections like he’s surprised they’re in one piece. Fresher cement.

Any conversation Scott tried to start either seemed painfully forced – “Isaac called from France a few days ago, he says it’s good there, Argent’s looking better. You should probably call and tell him you’re ok, unless you want me to. Isaac, I mean, though you could call Argent too. You guys are good now, right?” – or just plain painful. He must’ve told Derek he was there to talk if he needed about a dozen different ways since Mexico, and Derek shrinks down a little more every time he hears it.

Scott’s not stupid, he sees it’s not the right thing to say. But it’s obvious he has no clue what the right thing is.

That there’s no right thing, no magic word… that there are some things Scott’s good intentions can’t fix no matter how much he wants to, is something his hero complex has never been able to quite accept.

Still, Derek’s discomfort is obvious and it doesn’t take long for everyone to clear out. Their parents will be wondering about them, they all need a rest and a shower like two days ago. Stiles should go along with them but he finds himself hanging back. He’d texted his dad when they’d started heading back with Derek, when they crossed the border, when they’d gotten north of LA, but the idea of seeing him, dealing with the questions, taking in the physical proof of how much he’s been worrying…

So he hovers by the couch, watches Derek check the walls, skirt around the mess of research still spread out across the floor, and pause uncertainly by his own bed.

When he comments on Stiles’ scent he’s not talking about the room at large, where the evidence of Stiles, Scott, Kira and Lydia’s presence are probably all layered together from days spent using it as a base of operations. And for the first time Stiles actually thinks about what he’d been doing here in Derek's, and feels the littlest bit guilty.

“Yeah, I might’ve… kind of ended up staying here a few times while you were gone.”

Derek’s still staring down at the bed, the rumpled comforter, his expression unreadable. Stiles shifts a step closer, as though he could dive forward and smooth out the evidence and they could both just forget it had ever happened. Crap, he hadn’t thought to change the sheets or anything.

“Sorry, I didn’t think… that wasn’t cool of me. I mean, now there’s Stiles Scent over everything, and you probably just wanted to come home to your familiar broody wolf smells, and—“

“No, it’s good.” The words cut Stiles off mid-ramble, and Derek’s eyes shoot up finally, looking just as startled as Stiles feels. “It’s fine,” he corrects, but it’s too late as far as Stiles is concerned. Derek thinks it’s good that he came home to Stiles’ scent.

“It’s like… a pack comfort thing, right?” He shoves his hands into his pockets before they can do something intensely stupid, like reach out, touch Derek’s arm. “Having a familiar scent around, not being alone. I get that.”

“Do you?”

Stiles grimaces, because he’s been doing exactly the opposite. Ducking away from everyone he knows, hiding out with ghosts and empty rooms.

“You said if I needed anything—“

“I meant it.” It comes out soft and painfully earnest. Derek’s eyes have slid from Stiles’ face again. When Stiles’ hand slips from his pocket, reaches out to brush his broad shoulder, they slide shut with a little shudder. “You should go.”

Every line of Derek’s body has gone tense, the shudder catching and holding in his spine. Stiles, dreamlike, feels himself shuffle forward. His hands are aching strangely and he realizes he wants to smooth them down Derek’s back, press into his shoulders, massage some of that tension straight out of him. He’s surprised by the force of it, the want, by how much he really doesn’t want to walk out the door right now.

Rescuing Derek Hale has been his mission for the past few weeks, the thing he’s had to hold on to, to keep himself from spiraling. And Derek’s standing right in front of him now, jaw tense and nostrils flaring out with the scent of Stiles in his bed, eyes squeezed shut like he doesn’t know what to do with the emotions rattling around inside him.

“You… if you want someone here tonight, if you want to—“ Stiles isn’t totally sure what he’s offering even as it slips past his lips, only that it’s making his breath go thin and shaky, that his skin is buzzing strangely where his hand’s pressed against Derek, and he feels like he should be maybe pressing against him more, pressing against him all over, that maybe it’ll force something loose, let him feel something after a month of just feeling lost in his own skin.

Derek lets out a low, breathless sound and then he’s stepping away, eyes flashing back open and looking anywhere but at Stiles.

“You should go,” he says again, more firmly this time. “Your dad probably wants to see you.”

Stiles’ hand is still hanging in the air between them. He blinks a few times too fast, lowers it.

“Right. Yeah. And you should call Cora. She keeps sending me threatening texts, man; I’m pretty sure she’s about a day away from flying up here with an army at her back to help track you down.”

It takes a few seconds for Derek to shake himself out of whatever dark thought his brain’s gotten caught on. When he does, he snorts.

“Where the hell would Cora get an army?”

The dry tone is more familiar than anything Stiles has heard so far, and he feels some of the buzzing tension go out of him, something settling in his gut as he flashes the other man a skeptical look.

“Do you seriously think Cora’s incapable of amassing an army?”

Derek actually smirks at that, a quick little twitch of his lips he fails to swallow fast enough. He’s coming back to himself, and Stiles still kind of feels the urge to wrap his arms around Derek and maybe bury Derek’s face in his neck and just let them breathe each other in until they fall asleep tangled around each other (and fuck, Stiles is going to have to seriously start reexamining his mental state at some point, because he’s seventeen and sex fantasies are pretty much a given, but cuddle fantasies? Cuddle with Derek fantasies? That’s a whole new level of weird he’s not sure all the previous weirdness in his life has quite prepared him for).

But Derek seems more like himself now, and Stiles feels almost ok with the thought of leaving him on his own. Almost ok with himself (and, god, that’s a weird thought. And it’s weird how weird that thought is) as he quirks his lips in a little smile, shoves his traitorous hand back in his pocket, and starts backing toward the loft door.

“Ok if I come back sometime tomorrow? You’ve kind of invaded my fortress of solitude here.”

Derek huffs at that, brows shooting up.

Your fortress?”

“Possessive much? Fine, it can be your fortress. But I’m still dropping by.”

Derek takes a second to consider that and Stiles lets him, watches his eyes flick around the room – to the papers splayed out across the floor, the few dirty dishes they’d left in the sink after a long night of mapping. The rumpled sheets.

“Yeah,” he agrees faintly, finally. “That would be… good.”


They fall into a comfortable routine over the next few days. Stiles showing up right after school, doing his homework or browsing the ‘net or just staring at Derek over his phone as they guy reads (never for too long at a time, he gets restless), or paces the loft like he’s prowling the perimeter for threats, or just straight up works out right in front of Stiles.

And, well, if Stiles had come here for a distraction, he’s definitely getting it.

Derek is the epitome of precision as he loses himself to his routines, all clear lines and muscle, and there’s absolutely no point in Stiles trying to convince himself he’s not enjoying the view. It’s maybe helping him realize some things too, some things that have been floating around the periphery of his brain for a while. Derek Hale working out in a pair of ass-hugging sweats and a ratty tank top is enlightening, ok?

On the fifth day Derek’s already well into his work out by the time Stiles shows up, and he’d mourn the loss of that ass during pushups, those muscled arms easily lifting himself over and over again, the little huffing breaths he lets out while doing his crunches that make Stiles’ brain go in a whole other direction… except that Derek just nods Stiles toward the couch and falls into some kind of intense tae bo routine with an ease and familiarity that suggests he’s probably actually trained with someone.

And it’s… well…

Stiles spends all of about ten seconds focusing on calculus before the numbers start looking offensive enough for him to switch to his phone instead, and then he loses all trace of subtlety around the same time a sweaty sheen starts to break out across Derek’s skin. He wants to taste it, ok? Wants to feel it sliding across him, wants Derek moving with that drive and precision over his body… and it hits Stiles at some point around Derek’s (definitely non-standard) kick flip that he hasn’t gotten himself off, hasn’t even thought about doing it, since the demon had left his body. Not until now, anyway.

It’s probably a good thing, a small victory – awesome, he’s finally been distracted from his own crushing guilt long enough to have sex-thoughts again – but maybe it’s just been too long because it’s all hitting him at once and his body’s going hot, his breaths feeling shaky. It feels like he’s at the edge of a panic attack almost as much as he wants to get off.


Derek freezes mid-punch, that loose, easy posture tightening up so fast he probably strains something.


“Nothing, sorry. Just… you look good.” It comes out sounding a lot more like a come on than he’d planned (even if that’s exactly what he’d meant) and he finds himself flailing awkwardly, hand waving in Derek’s direction before dropping to fumble pointlessly with his phone. “Your forms there, they look… you look like you know what you’re doing.”

Derek watches him for a few seconds before he seems to realize he’s still standing mid-punch, and falls into a more neutral position.

“Cora’s been helping.”

Maybe Stiles’ brain is working too slowly, too caught up on the bead of sweat at the edge of Derek’s hairline, the tension still trying to shake him out of his own skin, because “Wait, when did Cora get here?” falls from his lips and then Derek’s giving him that patented Hale ‘you idiot’ look before nodding pointedly toward his laptop.

Which, yes, Stiles is still kind of surprised Derek owns. It’s almost like the guy lives in this century with the rest of them and everything.

“She started teaching me while we were traveling together. Says it’s been therapeutic for her. We’ve been keeping up with it over Skype in the mornings.”

Oh, that’s actually really… healthy of him. Somehow Stiles has pictured the guy huddling alone in his loft every day until Stiles gets here, like the huge brooding loner he is.

“Well, you look really good.”

Derek’s lips twitch.

“You said that.”

Shit, he had, hadn’t he?

“Yeah, well… you do.”

It hangs in the air for a few seconds too long, before Derek’s eyes finally drop and Stiles realizes he hasn’t breathed since he’d spoken. He sucks air in so fast he nearly chokes on it, and almost misses Derek’s low “You want to learn?”

It’s a terrible idea for about thirty different reasons, but Stiles is already tripping to his feet and past the low table to stand in front of Derek.

Hell yes.”

Derek smiles.

And then for about five minutes the world falls away and his life transforms into one of those sexy training montages from an action movie: Derek showing him an easy form and Stiles trying not to get too distracted by Derek’s… everything to mimic it. His movements are rough and sloppy, but that’s ok because then Derek’s moving in close, adjusting his arms, nudging his legs into a wider stance in a way that makes Stiles’ brain go in a direction that has nothing to do with fighting.

If Stiles had any sense of self-preservation at all, any pride, this would probably be the time for him to duck out of here fast. But this is the first time he’s felt anything in ages that isn’t clouded by self-loathing. And it’s definitely not just him. Derek keeps shifting to stand too close, his hands lingering. Drifting up Stiles’ arms, pausing over insignificant adjustments.

He’s hovering just behind Stiles, thumbs trailing along the set of his shoulders, when the words float out.

“I can’t sleep, not unless I’m too tired to keep my eyes open. And then I wake up, and it’s almost worse because I realize I’ve let my guard down.”

There’s a weird moment of disconnect, where Stiles isn’t quite sure which of them had spoken. It had been Derek’s voice, definitely. Derek’s breath against his neck (oh god) in the rhythm of the words. But they could’ve been stolen right of out Stiles’ mouth.

The moment’s intimate, the air charged, and it leaves Stiles feeling suddenly brave. He lets himself lose track of his stance, falling backward a little at a time until they’re pressed against each other. Derek’s a warm line of muscle against his back and Stiles’ eyes slip closed, sinking into the sensation of another body against his.

For a few seconds neither of them moves, neither speak, as though if they just stand still they can pretend nothing’s changing between them.

But then the stillness gets to be too much… and Stiles is sick with nerves. Knows he’s probably still too screwed up to even think about doing something like this, knows if he’d been in a better mindset he’d probably come up with a dozen reasons, easy, why he shouldn’t. But Derek’s body is warm and welcoming against him, and he feels, and he needs, and—

“I get that,” he says. It comes out thin, too high, a little breathless. Making a valiant stab at casual and missing by a mile.

Derek’s nose is against his throat, sliding up, breathing him in in long, slow drags as he murmurs, “Had a feeling you would.”

Everything breaks loose at once, Stiles twisting with a whine, and then their mouths are crushing together. There are a few thoughtless seconds where Stiles just takes, savors the taste and rough stubble against his lips, the hard lines under his gripping hands. Derek’s frozen against him, lips barely parted – surprise, Stiles thinks, until he starts thinking maybe disgust and that, fuck, he’s read this all wrong, hasn’t he? Derek had just been trying to help him out, teach him something, share something that had been bothering him, which is honestly a huge step for someone like Derek, and then he’d just gone and splayed himself out all over the guy and seriously who does that?

He’s starting to scramble back, that familiar self-loathing creeping in as he fumbles for any sort of apology, excuse, that will take back the last twenty seconds.

But even as he draws away, Derek’s shaking himself into motion, gripping Stiles’ nape with a low sound and pulling them back against each other.

And then they’re kissing. Actual, serious, reciprocated kissing. Stiles’ hands are a blur of sensation, going everywhere at once – bulging biceps, firm chest, hair so fucking soft, he never would’ve guessed it’d be that soft, feel that good twisted through his fingers – while Derek’s own catch his hips, huge and warm. Keeping him steady, keeping him anchored as he threatens to rattle straight out of his skin. It’s intense and insane and still somehow makes perfect sense, because fuck if they haven’t been dancing around this for ages now, if Stiles hasn’t been aching to get his hands on Derek for probably way longer than he’d consciously realized.

Derek’s letting out fierce little growls against his mouth, one hand sliding up Stiles’ side, rucking up his shirt and gripping the skin underneath. And less clothes sounds amazing but also ridiculously daunting, especially with the way Derek’s other hand is going boldly to cup Stiles through his jeans, his palm pressing in too rough... but that just leaves Stiles quaking harder.

Rough is good. It seeps into his skin, lets him really feel it. He wants bruises he’ll be able to feel when he’s questioning all this later.

Their mouths break contact when a fresh whine tears up Stiles’ throat. Derek strokes him again, massaging through his jeans in a fast, steady rhythm. Stiles’ head drops to that broad shoulder, smirking into the sweat-slick skin.

“So is this where I say I’ve got a better way to wear you out than working out?”

Derek’s next breath huffs too loud, his hand moving to slide along the waistband of Stiles’ jeans. Which… ok, yes, they’re going there. He’d had no idea how badly he needs to go there.

“Bed?” he murmurs, but Derek’s already guiding him backward, crowding him against the nearest wall instead. And maybe it’s a little cold and a lot hard but Stiles definitely isn’t complaining about the manhandling. Not with Derek pressing up in front of him, enveloping him in hot muscle and smooth skin and that stubble roughing up his throat as Derek drops his head, breathes heavy into the contact. His thigh slides in against Stiles’ groin and his hand starts to work at Stiles’ jeans again with earnest. When he gets the button open, his hand slipping in to wrap around Stiles’ hardening length, Stiles' brain goes blissfully blank.

He’s gripping Derek’s shoulders, clinging to the edges of his shirt, riding out the sensation while Derek’s hand works him over: that large, calloused palm pulling him fast and hard as his legs spread out wider, one thigh practically crawling up Derek’s leg in a desperate hunt for more. More sensation, more contact, more… feeling good, even just for a few seconds.

Because everything goes away, everything disappears or breaks or gets ruined, and he can’t lose this, he just found this, he needs…

He needs to touch Derek back, he realizes, and then one hand is sliding shakily down his chest, his head twisting to mouth at Derek’s rough jaw. He wants to kiss him again, really savor his mouth. Wants to taste every inch of his skin, suck in little bruises, see how long they take to heal. But not yet, this is enough, caught up in the sensation of Derek’s stubble scraping against his teeth.

An embarrassingly pleased sound drags out of him as his hand finally reaches Derek’s half-hard heat through his sweats… but Derek’s pushing it away before he can get a decent feel.

“Don’t, I’m fine.”

“Yeah you are,” comes out before Stiles can check it, and he snorts at himself, at how ridiculous he feels, loose-limbed and giddy in a way he hasn’t felt since… hasn’t ever felt, maybe. Stiles is never going to make fun of Scott for getting girl stupid again, if he feels even half as good as Stiles does from just a few kisses and half a hand job.

Grinning, nosing at Derek’s cheek, he murmurs: “Derek, reciprocation’s kind of the name of the game here. You get me off, I get you off, everyone’s happy.”

So maybe the guy’s a control freak (big surprise there), but Stiles isn’t looking to be controlled. His hand is back on Derek for all of a second before Derek’s grabbing him at the wrist, pushing away from the wall.

“You don’t have to.”

“Dude, I want to.”

There’s a long, strangely charged pause after that, Derek taking in his face warily. Like he’s not sure Stiles means it, like there could be a question that anyone would want to get all up on that. Stiles bobs his head, brows lifting, and then Derek’s rolling his eyes, letting out a longsuffering huff. He drops his hold on Stiles’ hand and steps back in, bracing one hand behind Stiles on the wall before cocking his head: go ahead then.

Oh, and great, now Stiles actually has to perform. He takes a heartbeat to psych himself back up, trailing his fingers down Derek’s taut abs. He gets caught up for a minute right under Derek’s navel, in the feel of the coarse hairs, just the idea of getting his hand wrapped around Derek’s cock. His hand skims the edge of the waistband the way Derek had on him, starts to slip under.

Derek lets out a shuddery little breath, and something about it makes him look up. Derek’s eyes are screwed shut, his jaw tense, his breathing too heavy and too even, like he’s bracing for a blow and not a hand job.

Stiles freezes, the heady thrill rushing out of him so fast he feels like he’s falling.

“…Do you even want this?”

For a few seconds Derek doesn’t move, doesn’t respond. Then, tightly:

“You want it.”

He says it like it’s any kind of answer. And Stiles is just standing here with his hand half in Derek’s pants, a familiar swooping feeling that something’s going terribly wrong. His hand draws slowly back.

“Yeah, but… no. Fuck, Derek, I don’t want to do something you don’t want.”

“It’s fine.”

And there’s that word again. Fine. He’d heard it in Mexico, and again today. Stiles is starting to realize he can’t ever trust that word coming out of Derek’s mouth.

“It’s… no, what the hell?” Derek’s hand is moving toward Stiles’ dick again and he jerks back, sliding away along the wall and out of reach. Derek’s eyes flit open, his next breath coming out a low growl.

“Stiles, it’s fine.”

Like it’s the words Stiles is having trouble grasping, not… not that this doesn’t make sense. Derek had been pushing for this even before Stiles did anything. He’d been kissing Stiles, jerking him off. He’s half hard in his sweats but now he’s treating this like it’s a damn obligation or something he just has to suffer through, and…

“How the hell is this fine? How is it fine that you were just gonna let me—“

“Because it is,” Derek grits, voice like gravel, like he’s on the edge of turning. Stiles thinks he sees a flicker of blue in his eyes. “You wanted to get off, I was getting you off. You want to touch me, if that helps get you there that’s, it’s… whatever. It’s good, I don’t mind. You’re better than—“ He cuts off before a name slips out, but Stiles flinches anyway.

“Are you kidding me right now? I’m ‘better than’ your psychotic murdering exes who used your body and lied to you while they did it? That’s awesome, Derek. That’s fucking great.” Derek’s pushed himself off the wall, arms crossing defensively over his chest, but Stiles can’t get any kind of read on his expression. “I thought you wanted this. You were acting like you… But you were just, what, using me to punish yourself? You weren’t miserable enough today and decided ‘hey, how about I screw Stiles? That’ll really push me into that dark pit of misery I’m comfortable in.’”

Derek’s head shakes slowly.

“That’s not… It wasn’t punishment, Stiles. This wasn’t about me. You wanted it. Your scent’s been hurting all week. Since before I was taken.” He trails off again, gets lost somewhere behind his own eyes. “I thought it would help.“

…He’d thought it would help. He thought Stiles would enjoy this.

“You thought wrong, ok? You should have your thinking privileges revoked. You clearly suck at it.” Derek’s focus comes back sharply at Stiles’ words and he flinches, shrinking inward.

Stiles had been right before this all started; they’re too damaged for this. Too screwed up to do anything other than claw each other apart looking to hurt and heal themselves.

“That’s not what I meant. Derek, you should think. You just… you should think for yourself. Figure out what you need, and just… don’t go around giving it up because you think that’s what someone else wants.”

Derek’s just watching him now, like he’s not understanding, or he’s not understanding what Stiles isn’t understanding. It’s like some part of his brain had just shut down in Mexico and hasn’t come back online since.

And Stiles had known that before now. Had seen the little jumps and disconnects in Derek’s head, the way he flinches from Scott’s attempts to reach out, jumps at any unknown sound like he’s expecting an intruder to dive out of the nearest shadow. Seen the way he’ll sometimes stare at the same page, eyes unmoving, for minutes at a time when he tries to read. His brain back in Mexico, or with Kate the first time through or, maybe seeing the Darach’s true face or hell, maybe even with Paige.

There are a lot of nightmares in Derek’s life for him to lose himself in.

“It wasn’t hurting me, Stiles. It’s just sex. It’s not a big deal.”

That should make Stiles feel young, maybe. Naïve. Basically pointing out every bit of his own woeful inexperience. But somehow when it comes out with that defiant edge, those shuttered eyes, it just reeks of self-convincing.

Stiles doesn’t know how many people Derek was with in the years he spent away from Beacon Hills. If he’d been with no one else or a hundred. But either way, two killer girlfriends isn’t a good streak on anyone’s record, and seeing Kate again, being trapped with her for four weeks… it’d brought the whole nightmare bubbling right back to the surface. Sex has to mean nothing to Derek right now, or it’s going to mean way too much.

But Stiles has been used enough recently to hurt the people he cares about. He can’t, even if what that person’s looking for is to hurt.

“It is a big deal, Derek. It matters. If it… if we… It would matter.”

Derek’s eyes slide away.

“Then we probably shouldn’t.”


There’s nothing else to say, and any attempt to comfort Derek would probably just make him shrink. Stiles, shaking slightly, turns to stride back toward the couch. His pants are hanging low on his hips, his erection so far gone it’s barely a memory as he zips himself back up, throws his books back in his bag, and makes for the door. And he should just go, get the hell out of there and not look back, but he finds himself pausing in the doorway. Derek hasn’t moved since he’d last spoken – arms a taut shield over his chest, eyes locked on a stray patch of floor.

“Did you ever actually want me? Before Mexico, it felt like maybe…”

The words seem to take forever floating across the room, registering in Derek’s eyes. But then his gaze slides to catch on Stiles, and there’s something heartbreaking there, like he’s trying to remember a feeling he used to have.

“I think maybe… yeah.” It rasps out too rough, his own vocal cords fighting the sound.

Stiles breaks the gaze first, nodding tightly.

Derek used to want him, when Derek had been in a state to want anything.

He’s not really sure if that’s better or worse.


It’s probably strange that this is what finally drags Stiles out of his melancholy–induced isolation. His fortress of semi-solitude stolen from him, the bitter chill in the air too bad to even contemplate braving the graveyard if he’s not actively trying to kill himself, he finds himself at Scott’s instead, knocking at the door and hovering there on the porch like he hasn’t done since he’d gone ahead and gotten a key made over a year ago.

He hasn’t been here in weeks, hasn’t felt like he deserved to. Hasn’t wanted to voluntarily force his presence on anyone. But when Scott opens the door, Stiles finds himself launching forward and wrapping him in a bone-bruising hug.

However surprised Scott might be, he doesn’t miss a beat hugging back. He doesn’t question Stiles’ presence either, just laughs and pats his back and says “hey man, good to see you” like he’s been away on a trip or something.

Honestly, he kind of has.

“Scott, I’m… I don’t want to be… Can I come in for a while?”

Scott lets him hold on to him there in the doorway, a little too tight, too needy. He’s shaking apart again, like he’d been in Derek’s loft. But then Scott says, “You can always come in, dude. And you never need to knock, got it?”

It feels safe, familiar. He pulls out of the hug with a snort.

“I’m knocking on your bedroom door at least, man. There are some things, once seen, I won’t ever be able to unsee.” The teasing retort feels easy, almost natural. And he sort of feels like maybe he’s not shaking apart after all; maybe he’s starting to fall back into place.


He plays video games with Scott, and they spend a while actually talking. Things have been moving forward with Kira since Mexico. So far it’s just the shared smiles and held hands Stiles has seen in passing at school, but the grin on Scott’s face when he talks about it… it’s probably something close to the grin Stiles had been wearing a few hours ago with Derek’s leg between his thighs. He’s happy for Scott, and he’s kind of surprised he can feel happy for Scott. He loves the guy like a brother, he always wants the best for him, but since he’d started spiraling everything’s felt kind of too muted for him to really care.

“You and Derek seem… close, lately,” Scott notes between respawns in COD. It was bound to come up at some point, but Stiles still flinches. Misses his headshot and starts taking fire.

“We’re kind of in the same headspace,” is all he offers, and Scott dives to his rescue. Taking out three attackers in quick succession and forcing the rest to scurry.

“You’ve seemed better this week,” Scott adds a few seconds later, and a stray grenade goes off under Stiles’ feet.

He gets home by seven and has dinner with his dad. Sits through the whole meal and even makes small talk, discussing Christmas plans because damn it Christmas is a little over a week away, and Stiles hadn’t even remembered it. They get a tree the next day – an awkward, lopsided thing they haggle down to half price, and cover so much in ornaments and tinsel they can’t even see the branches.

It’s still an effort not to duck away when anyone smiles his way too gently, or when he feels the dark thoughts creeping back into his brain. But overall, he feels almost like a person again, for a while.

And then Scott, frowning down at his phone Sunday afternoon, says “Have you heard from Derek lately?” and it’s like that night in the graveyard all over again.

“Not since Friday,” he says, and Scott’s answering “huh” has a little too much tension in it. He doesn’t question it when Stiles pushes himself off the couch and makes for the door.


Derek’s there, and alive, and apparently his phone’s still in a perfectly functioning condition. He doesn’t meet Stiles’ eyes when he stalks over to grab it, while he scrolls through a line of unanswered (read, Stiles notes, but unanswered) texts from Scott, Cora, and even Isaac.

“You know, there is this thing called a reply button. I know you like to pretend you exist back in an age before running water and electricity and everything, but it might’ve been nice to tell everyone you’re not dead.”

Derek’s standing behind the long wooden table, half-silhouetted against the window, arms crossed. He’s glaring like Stiles is invading his space, and it’s such a familiar picture that Stiles is halfway surprised the guy hasn’t dug out his old leather jacket to complete the image.

The tough act is ruined a little by the fresh gauntness of his cheeks, the dark rings under his eyes. His bed is a tangled nest of sheets and comforter; the rest of the room weirdly pristine. And Stiles hadn’t missed the way the guy’s claws had been out when he’d answered the door, even though he must’ve been able to hear or smell it was Stiles coming.

It’s lucky as hell the Girl Scouts don’t make it out this far.

Some of Stiles’ anger deflates as he crosses the room, dropping the phone to the table between them.

“Have you slept at all since Friday?”

Derek’s non-answer, really, is answer enough.

Stiles lets out a slow breath. The table feels like an endless barrier between them, one he’s not sure he should even try crossing. But he can’t just let this go, not when Derek looks so worn down, when he’s trying so hard to brace up walls it took a year and too many near-death experiences to pull down.

So he licks his lips, averting his eyes, and plunges in.

“So, on the topic of Friday,”

“Stiles, I’m—“

“I swear to god, if you say you’re fine…” It comes out sharp and easy, and he looks back up to see Derek’s lips twisting, quick and easy – what’ll you do about it? Stiles finds his mouth hanging open in response. A tension he’s been holding onto for three days finally starts to settle the second Derek meets his eyes. Maybe things aren't broken between them. Maybe if they just try...

He cocks his head, lets himself slide back into an old, familiar game. “I’ll… do something really annoying. I can be really annoying when I put my mind to it, I’ve been told that. I have references. Hey, you’re probably one of my references.”

It feels a little like the start of last summer, the two of them figuring out how to fit and move around each other. Stiles hiding behind the role of the jester, Derek still figuring out how much of himself he can show. But it breaks the ice, and a few seconds later Derek’s softening. His arms still tight across his chest, he lets his eyes drift to his bed. The obvious evidence of his restless nights.

“Have you?” He asks in lieu of an answer, and Stiles shrugs.

“A little. I still do this kind of shocking awake thing whenever I start dreaming. Haven’t been screaming as much for the past week or so though.”

“I keep expecting Kate to show up.” It comes out soft, like he half doesn’t want Stiles to hear it. It’s the first time Stiles has heard him say her name. “Every time something moves, every time it feels too quiet. She was so damn quiet when she wanted to be, even before she turned.”

That tension’s coming back to Derek’s stance as fast as it’d left… and it’s not like Stiles doesn’t get it. He gets irrational fears, alright? He could write a book on them. But with Derek closing down as quick as he’d opened up, Stiles can’t think of anything else to spit out besides:

“She’s dead, Derek. You know she’s dead. You saw her corpse burning.”

“She was dead last time too.”

And there’s not really a good way to respond to that.

It doesn’t matter much anyway because Stiles has barely got his lips parted before Derek, eyes flashing, growls: “Peter was dead. We thought Gerard was dead. So when the hell is it over, Stiles? When do we get to stop looking over our shoulders?”

It’s obvious from the way the words tear out of him that he’s not planning on saying any of it. He freezes in the aftermath, then turns away, snarling wordlessly under his breath.

“Derek…” All at once there’s too much space between them, the table a gulf that needs bridging about a year ago. He paces parallel to Derek until they both reach the end, and then he’s darting forward fast, moving in front of him. Derek doesn’t meet his eyes but doesn’t push past him either, and Stiles’ hand goes out before dropping again because as much as his brain had been screaming to close the distance, he has no clue what to do now that he’s gotten here.

“Hey, look. We don’t, ok? Things have sucked, and that doesn’t show any sign of stopping any time soon. Just dropping our guard would be stupid. But we’re gonna get whiplash if we keep spinning in circles like this, looking for the next attack. We just… maybe we’ve just got to keep facing forward. Find someone we trust to look us in the eye and tell us if something’s creeping up behind.”

Derek lifts his gaze slowly, and it shouldn’t mean anything big, shouldn’t mean anything at all really, but the flash in the pan anger’s going out of Derek again, leaving behind something open and fragile and so raw Stiles doesn’t know what to do with the feelings that well up in response.

It feels like the most natural thing in the world when Derek kisses him. Dry lips brushing softly, quickly; Stiles’ eyes barely having a chance to flutter shut before it’s over. He doesn’t let himself chase the retreating mouth, but his hand drifts to Derek’s chest, catching in his shirt to steady himself. When his eyes open again, slow and a little bit hazy, he finds a pair of multifaceted eyes drinking him in thoughtfully.

“I’ve wanted you, Stiles. On Friday, before Friday. You should know it’s not… you weren’t wrong about that.”

Which, yeah, he’d kind of figured. Derek had held his hand half the way back from Mexico, had seemed happy about the idea of Stiles’ scent in his bed. Not to mention the whole kissing thing.

…Although. Can he just mention the whole kissing thing? That’s definitely something that should get mentioned like constantly because damn.

But Derek had also panicked the second Stiles touched him back, and he couldn’t look in a corner without seeing the shadow of Kate Argent.

Stiles’ hand lifts up, drifts across the dark hollow under Derek’s eyes.

“You need sleep.”

Derek huffs a breath, leaning into the contact, and Stiles thinks that’s probably progress.


“Hey, I’ll stay with you. If you want, I mean. Watch your back. Scream pitifully if someone tries to break in while you’re out.”

“Sleep with me?” It comes out fast, thoughtless and unguarded. Stiles’ brows shoot up, and he can’t possibly be blamed for the way his heart rate rockets into overdrive. Derek snorts, nudging his cheek against Stiles’ hand. “Sleep with me,” he clarifies, and… right. Because they are way not close to ready for anything else.

He scoffs to break the tension.

“That’s what you say now. But as soon as you get me in bed you’ll start trying to have your wicked way with me.”

Derek’s next breath drags out too hard, his eyes falling to Stiles’ mouth and… yeah, he’s interested. There’s a thrill in that, in Derek wanting him, even if their lives are nightmares and the timing’s all wrong.

And he needs to stop thinking about it, because he’s actually at a place now where he might get a boner thinking about it, and Derek’s not there yet. Derek’s head is still muddled, he’s still working through emotional aftershocks, and he hasn’t slept in three days.

That last thought gets Stiles back on track, reminds him what he’s doing here.

“Let’s get you to bed, big guy.” He remembers to grab Derek’s phone as they go, and they both settle against the sheets – Derek sinking into his pillow with a grateful groan the second they lie down, Stiles kicking off his shoes and leaning against the backboard. He texts out quick messages to Cora and Isaac, and then Scott for good measure, letting them know Derek’s (he smirks) fine.


They’re still miles from fine. He’s not honestly sure if ‘fine’ is a possibility anymore. But Derek’s breathing evens out before Stiles finishes texting, and when he starts to shift restlessly again an hour later, Stiles’ hand brushing through his hair settles him.

What was that phrase Scott had been using lately? Regression to the mean.

When things hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere to get but better.

He drifts to sleep around sunset, lying on his side in the tangled sheets with a hand trailing down Derek’s sleep-soft cheek.


“You think I’m gone? You think you’re safe?”

The voice tumbles toward him out of the darkness, spitting and hissing ugly over the edges of words.

“What smiles at shadows? What trusts the silence? What believes lost things can be recovered, that voids inside can ever be filled?”

He’s scrambling backward, but the darkness is behind him too. Nothing but shadows and the distant flicker of fireflies.

When the voice speaks again it’s his own, right against his ear:

“A fool, Stiles.”

He fights his way back to consciousness and a dark room, a pair of strong arms cradling him against a sturdy, anchoring chest. Someone’s shushing against his ear: little, voiceless breaths gusting against his neck. And the sound, the sensation of it, soothes him.

Derek doesn’t try to talk about it, doesn’t say anything. Just gathers Stiles closer as the tremors give way to sick, shuddery little sobs. A warm hand soothes down his spine and then rests there on his lower back. The fingers lift, one by one, and tap down firmly against his skin.

One, two, three, four, five.

He hadn’t planned on spending the night, honestly hadn’t planned on falling asleep here at all. But moving feels like an impossibility, and a seriously unnecessary one at that.

Anyway, he’s just helping Derek out, making sure he gets a few hours of rest in. Getting Stiles’ scent back over his sheets the way he likes it. That totally makes sense; it’s like a heroic sacrifice really, he should get a medal.

He drifts back to sleep cradled in Derek’s arms, and when he wakes up it’s past dawn and Derek’s still lying next to him, sleep rumpled and unbearably beautiful, smiling softly at Stiles because he’s obviously been watching him sleep like the total creeper he is.

Stiles decides he’s actually pretty ok with that.


Scott ambushes him in the hallway after second period, swooping in and clapping his shoulder hard.

“Dude, if you’re gonna start sleeping with Derek or whatever, at least warn me I have to cover for you.”

“I’m not sleeping with Derek.” But he flushes, remembering Derek’s words from the day before, and can’t help amending. “I mean, technically I slept with Derek…”

“Oh, ugh, dude, I really don’t need to hear the technicalities.” But Scott’s grinning as he speaks, nudging at Stiles’ elbow. Stiles smirks back and decides not to bother correcting any assumptions about the technicalities.


Stiles brings a Christmas tree to the loft after school.

…Ok, he brings a two foot potted evergreen bush, which he thinks serves the nifty dual purpose of spreading Christmas cheer while giving Derek something to keep alive that won’t destroy him if he screws up on. Derek seems skeptical, but he comes over to join in hanging the few red and gold baubles Stiles had liberated from his own tree at home.

There’s no homework this close to winter break, so instead they spend nearly an hour working through the martial arts forms they’d barely started on Friday. (Which turns out to be not tae bo, but some kind of Brazilian jiu jitsu Cora had picked up on her travels; Stiles had been way off on that one.) This time Derek shows him the moves from a safe distance, and it’s not nearly as sexy but they get a hell of a lot more done.

By the time Stiles calls quits, he’s sweaty and sore and probably made a complete fool of himself. But then Derek leans in and brushes his nose down Stiles’ throat again, and it takes everything Stiles has not to arch his neck, grab Derek’s nape and reel him full bodied against him.

Derek pulls back after one more lingering drag, breathless in a way that has nothing to do with the workout when he tells Stiles goodnight.


They spend twenty minutes that night texting snarky banter at each other before Stiles forces himself to try and sleep.

He only wakes up twice, and he doesn’t scream at all, and his dad actually stumbles in some time in the middle of the night because he can’t believe Stiles is resting so quietly.


On Wednesday they get word that Isaac and Argent will be flying back to town in time for Christmas. They’re back the next day, and Isaac drops in at Scott’s house first thing.

“France was good,” Isaac says, and he looks good. Talking freely in front of everyone, seeming more at home in his own skin than Stiles thinks he’s ever seen him. “We definitely needed it. But being there for the holidays… it didn’t feel right, you know?”

“Your room here’s still free,” Melissa says, but Isaac smiles and shrugs off the offer. “I figure I’ll stay with Chris.” And there’s really not much more that needs saying.


“Cora keeps talking about coming back.”

It’s Christmas Eve, and Stiles should technically be at Scott’s house with everyone else. Technically he’d just popped over here to grab Derek and drag him, kicking and screaming, back to the festivities.

But Argent had showed up at the house just as Stiles had been ducking out, and the memories had hit him so hard he’d shown up at the loft shaking.

It’s just that he hasn’t seen the guy since Allison’s funeral. That he’s the one referenced on Allison’s tombstone – beloved daughter. …That if Stiles had done one of a thousand things differently, that tombstone wouldn’t exist at all.

Derek had taken one look at him and tugged him through the doorway. Wrapped his arms around him, let him shudder and shake and ramble out stumbling confessions that probably don’t make any sense outside his own head. Dragged him over to the couch and sat them both down, turning Stiles until Derek was a warm, firm line against his back.

It’s been twenty minutes now, and Stiles has been breathing evenly for ten of them.

Now he tilts his head back to glance at Derek, upside down against his chest. Finds him frowning faintly.

“Well, that’ll be a good thing, won’t it? Having someone you trust around?”

Derek’s grip tightens a little around Stiles’ waist, and Stiles sighs and settles back against him.

Right. It’s not Derek trusting Cora that’s the problem.

“How am I supposed to protect her? She wants a leader, an Alpha.”

“You protected her pretty well last time she was here.” Derek’s chest expands sharply, and Stiles rests his hand on his arm. “She wants her brother, ok? Alpha, leader, or not. You’re her family. You can’t duck out on family.”

Derek huffs, incredulous, and Stiles is having enough of all that judgmental breathing. (Who knew there could be so many different emotions expressed just with a single huff of air?) He pushes off Derek’s chest and turns to face him.

“No, dude. That’s different.”

Because maybe Stiles has been ducking out on his dad for a long time, but that was only so the man wouldn’t have to deal with his depressing presence.

Derek’s brow hikes up.

“It’s really not.”

And… ok, maybe it’s not. Except it is. Because the twist in Stiles’ gut is insisting it is. Insisting they’re at an impasse here, that Derek should be around Cora because she would help him, the same way Stiles’ presence inexplicably helps him. Derek deserves to get better, and Stiles…

“Derek, I killed people.”

“I killed my family.” It comes out too sharp, and by the startled look in Derek’s eyes, the way he balls up his hands and pushes off the couch, Stiles can tell he hadn’t meant to say it at all.


“You were possessed, Stiles.” He says it low and fast. Accusing, almost, except that the words are defending him. “Your body was being used by something you couldn’t understand or control. You were used like a weapon, but you had no say in what happened.”

The words make sense, but they still don’t compute. It’s not a good enough excuse. Nothing’s a good enough excuse when people died at his hands. He swallows down his defiant words, focuses on Derek instead.

“Neither did you.”

Derek takes it just like Stiles knew he would, and starts to turn away. Stiles is on his feet a second later, grabbing his arm, sliding a few inches across the floor before Derek stops moving away. “No. Neither did you. Derek, you want to talk ‘used against his will’ here?”

“I was willing,” Derek snarls, all the dirty edges in his words. Stiles refuses to wince - Derek will take it totally the wrong way if he does - and grips Derek’s arm harder. Wraps a whole forearm around his bicep in case he decides to really bolt.

“You were manipulated, ok? Lied to. Because you believed the best in someone. I mean, who the hell would ever think ‘hey, this girl I’m totally into is actually a psycho murderer raised to kill everything I hold dear’? No one. No one would think that. It’s not your fault and no one would blame you. Cora doesn’t blame you.”

It’s obvious she doesn’t. She wouldn’t have been in touch this much, this willing to uproot her life to be with Derek, if she did.

Derek stops tugging away. He lets Stiles duck around him, but his eyes lock in on something around Stiles’ ear.

“Cora doesn’t know.”

Which… oh.

Stiles shifts, moves back into Derek’s eyeline.

“Who have you told?”

His shoulders twitch. His eyes start to slide again until Stiles cups his face in one hand, gently pressing him to hold the eyelock.

“Derek, have you told anyone?”

“You know.”

A whole new weight of importance settles over Stiles. But still…

“I figured it out; that doesn’t count.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

And that’s not ‘fine’ but it’s pretty damn close.

“Of course it matters.” No wonder the guy’s been a bundle of tension since they met. No wonder he’d played everything so close to the chest. “Derek, has no one ever told you in the past seven years that it wasn’t your fault?”

Derek’s eyes search Stiles’ face again for a few seconds before his lips twist in a bitter smirk.

“You’re one to talk. You can’t look Argent in the eye, and you weren’t even possessed anymore when Allison--”

Stiles flinches as Derek twists own confession against him. Turnabout’s definitely not fair play, and he drops a hand, starting to pace away.

“It isn’t the—“

But Derek has his arm then, is jerking Stiles back around to face him and that’s not even close to fair, using his wolfy powers, but it’s not like Stiles had been planning on running anyway.

“Nothing the Nogitsune did was your fault. It possessed you because you were trying to save your dad’s life. Because my other psychotic, murdering girlfriend” (Stiles flinches at the echo of his own words) “was trying to kill them.”

“That’s not on you either.” Derek scoffs, and it’s kind of ridiculous how they’re running in circles like this. That something so obvious to say is so impossible to hear. “No, look, ok. Maybe I suck at taking my own advice, but you can damn well listen to it, ok? Trusting people is not a bad thing. And holding onto guilt for something someone else did… you’re never gonna get anywhere like that.”

Derek’s stopped flinching away from his words, his hand a steady, warm presence through Stiles’ sleeve as he takes a slow breath and brings his own up, a second time, to cup Derek’s face. “And I kind of really want us to get somewhere.”

A low, longing sound drags up Derek’s throat. He turns into the hand slowly, scratchy stubble dragging until his lips are pressing there instead.

The air’s charged with something suddenly, something that’s been there all along, buried under repression and anger and the firm belief they each held that they didn’t deserve to feel it.

But Derek’s eyes squeeze shut fast before opening up sharply, before he turns out of Stiles’ palm, examining him critically.

“So you trust me,” he says. It’s not a question, but there’s a wariness to the words that has Stiles nodding fast and firmly. Derek nods along with him, his hand moving out to brush along the line of Stiles’ waistband. “Then you have to trust me when I tell you you’re worth the effort.”

Stiles’ breath catches, and Derek’s lips twist into a proud little smirk as he works to turn his reaction into a scoff.

“Nope, sorry man, I’ve gotta take it all back. Your credibility’s just totally been blown.” His cheeks are flushing, the words squirming awkwardly in a chest that has long denied any place for them.

He killed people. He remembers holding the bombs in his hands, the feel of power thrilling through him as he twisted the blade in Scott’s gut. He’s not stupid, he knows it was the demon, knows he’d had no control, but that doesn’t make the memories fade, or make the dead any less gone.

But maybe Derek’s right. Maybe the first step is listening to other people when they say he’s worth it. He’ll tell Derek he’s worth it twelve times a day if he has to. He’ll leave sticky notes around his apartment; change his laptop password so Derek will have to type it every time he logs in.

And if he’s willing to do that for Derek, maybe it’s not fair not to do as much for himself.

Derek’s been going through his own internal debate, but now he’s shifting into motion. Stepping in closer, his free hand going to knuckle along Stiles’ cheek until he forces his gaze to lift.

“And I trust you.”

It’s not like that hadn’t been obvious before but now, words sliding out hushed and a little breathless from the close press of their bodies, it comes out like a confession, like something that means a hell of a lot more.

“Yeah, you’d better. I’m a trustworthy guy. I mean, depending on your definition of trustworthy. But I think my good intentions generally make up for my shortcomings.” He tries for a cocky grin, but Derek just smiles fondly. His knuckles nudge at Stiles’ jaw, and he shifts his weight just a little until there’s exactly zero space left between them.

“No, Stiles. I trust you.”

His eyes drift from Stiles’ own, falling pointedly to his lips. His hips making a fast little twist like just the thought of their mouths locked is enough to get him going. Stiles’ next breath falls out in a rush of too fast air and a quiet “fuck.”

And Derek, the bastard, just grins and slides his hand from Stiles’ hip to cup his ass, casual as anything.

“Yeah, that’s the idea.”

They’re against each other before Stiles has time for any kind of rational thought. He thinks he should be asking if Derek’s sure, or assuring him they don’t have to, quadruple checking that this is ok because last Friday’s still burned into his brain and he’ll kill himself if he somehow finds himself back there again.

But Derek’s not moving like he had last week: the biting kisses replaced with something deep and bone-meltingly soft. He’s guiding Stiles backward again, but this time his legs bump against the bed instead of a wall, and there’s something about falling into it, Derek’s hand carefully cradling his nape, that feels like falling into safety.

Then Derek’s on top of him, sliding in between Stiles’ eagerly splayed legs, grinning down at him with nothing like hesitation and everything like I want you right fucking now. Or maybe Stiles is projecting, but he thinks probably not, because when Stiles catches his collar and murmurs “You sure? Please be sure but, you know, if you’re not sure tell me now and that’ll be totally-“ Derek cuts him off with a fresh kiss and a hand against Stiles’ own, threading through it and guiding it right down to his still-clothed cock.

“Touch me,” Derek groans past Stiles’ choked out, startled sound. And Stiles does.

They move faster after that, Derek’s hips shifting in little, hungry grinds as Stiles works a hand over him, feeling him slowly harden against the pressure (feeling himself harden in response). The kisses going greedy before softening again, Stiles whining half-formed demands into Derek’s mouth, Derek licking silent responses right back into him.

And then, with a barely there twist of motion Derek’s shirt is gone, and Derek’s – fuck – ducking to ruck Stiles’ shirt up with his mouth. Nudging it up with his nose, mouthing into each new inch of skin as it’s revealed. He pauses, breathing deeply, around Stiles’ sternum, his face buried in the stretch of pale skin, nuzzling just enough with that beard that Stiles is sure he’s going to feel the burn against his shirt tomorrow.

He’s going to have beard burn. He’s going to have Derek’s beard burn.

His hips jerk at the thought, heels braced into the mattress, and Derek lets out a growl that sounds like “impatient” before sitting back up and dragging Stiles with him.

His shirts are history pretty fast after that. He twists out of the flannel even as he’s sitting up, and Derek practically tears his tee off him and then they’re clutching at each other again and…


Stiles loses time for a little while then, and that should probably be terrifying. He’s being pressed back down by huge, warm hands, Derek’s mouth ducking past his own and sliding instead over his collar, his chest, teasing against his nipples until he arches and keens. Then somehow Derek’s back at his neck, murmuring “Stiles, let me…” And Stiles is nodding frantically, not knowing what he’s agreeing to, not caring, because everything, everything everything.

Derek sucks a mark into his neck, slow and so soft he can barely feel it bruising. Stiles finds himself petting clumsily into Derek’s hair, their hips moving together in the rhythm of Derek’s sucking mouth until Stiles realizes he has no idea how long they’ve been at it now. His hips hitch out of rhythm, hand gripping Derek’s hair hard and reflexive.

He’s lost time, he’s lost track of himself, and it should be terrifyingand it’s not.

He feels unsteady suddenly on the bed, unsettled by how completely ok he feels now. More or less pinned by Derek’s weight, his focus gone, time slipping away from him… but it’s ok because he’s with Derek. Derek has him. Derek’s there to watch his back if things start to go wrong.

Derek’s shifting to sit back up on his elbows, to look down at Stiles, and the gaze hits Stiles with a pressure that actually knocks the air out of him. Derek’s hand shifts to brush along his bruised collar.

“Hey, what’s—“

“I think I might be kind of in love with you.”

It’s huge, possibly life-altering. An avalanche of emotion breaking loose. Derek just watches him for a few seconds, his lips curling.

“Oh, is that all?”

“What? Wait, what--” tumbles out as Derek ducks to kiss him again. Stiles manages to wiggle out of the way, swatting at Derek’s arm until he draws back. And maybe Derek didn’t get it, maybe he’s just not understanding because “All? That’s not an ‘is that all’ kind of statement, Derek. That’s like, one of the biggest statements, ok? That deserves something way better than ‘is that all’ and back to kissing.”

Derek tilts his head, surveying Stiles critically.

“Well, I would’ve gone with ‘I know’ but I think that’s a little cliché by this point.”

Stiles gapes up at him for several seconds, watching a smile dance its way around Derek’s lips.

“…I’m not sure if I love you even more now, or if I should take it all back for calling the best love confession in cinema history cliché. It’s classic.”

“It’s classic when Han says it. It’s cliché when someone copies it.”

And… yeah, ok, there’s no way Stiles can resist this. He’s already grinning (Derek knows Star Wars, what is his life right now?), leaning up to crush their mouths back together, when another thought hits him and he freezes.

“Wait, so by ‘is that all’ did you mean what Han meant when he said ‘I know’ to Leia?”

Derek’s thumbing along his neck again, pressing softly into the fresh bruise as he holds Stiles’ eyes steadily.

“Stiles… do you think I’d do any of this with just anyone?”

And that’s… there aren’t words for what that does to him. Derek’s hair is mussed, his eyes soft, his lips tilted in a gentle upcurve. He’s beyond beautiful, and maybe a little bit broken, and brave and lonely and loyal and loves Stiles. He loves Stiles.

The feelings bubbling up in him escape in a burst of giddy laughter. And then he’s rolling up against Derek, hands fisting into his hair, pulling him down and kissing him fiercely until he thinks better of it, bats at his shoulder again until they both come up for air.

“Why aren’t we naked? That’s… that needs to happen like yesterday.”

Derek’s pulling back, licking his lips and nodding dazedly.

Not touching each other for even a second just seems so stupid, though, so Stiles’ hands go to Derek’s jeans and Derek’s fall back to Stiles’, and it’s a little clumsy, both of them trying to work each other free at the same time. But then they finally make it, jeans and boxers gone, Derek hitching one of Stiles’ knees over his elbow, dragging Stiles half onto his lap as they slot back together. And it’s so good Stiles nearly comes from the first dry slide of contact.

Derek’s bare cock is sliding against him, rubbing against his balls, grinding into his ass, and Stiles has touched himself before, ok? Touched himself in every way the internet had ever suggested because, hello, no avenues of potential pleasure should ever go unexplored. But this isn’t Stiles’ own hand, clumsy and fumbling as he feels over himself. It’s Derek, Derek hovering right over Stiles, one palm braced on Stiles’ chest, eyes closed and mouth slack as they rock into each other. Stiles has to squeeze his eyes shut, dig his nails into his palms.

“I’m not gonna make it,” he murmurs, and somewhere above him, Derek lets out a shaky breath.

“Make what?”

“You inside me.” Derek’s hips jerk, his next grind leaving them both more than a little breathless. “You need to be inside me, why aren’t you inside me?”

Derek groans, and Stiles forces his eyes open to find Derek staring down at him, pupils blown out wide.

“Stiles, I don’t think either of us are gonna last that long.”

It’s a miracle Stiles doesn’t come just from that. He palms at his weeping cock, riding out a full-bodied shiver.

“No, Derek. We just did love confessions. Love confessions mean we do sex. Real sex, not just you jerking me off and rubbing off on me.”

He’s serious. He’s putting his foot down. …Metaphorically, because his feet are kind of up in the air right now, somewhere behind Derek’s back as his legs squeeze out an uneven rhythm around his toned waist and… what the hell had his argument been again? Oh right, yes, the sex. The actual, real, penetrative sex they should definitely be having, because Stiles loves Derek and Derek loves Stiles, and Stiles hasn’t gotten off in probably something like two months now…

But Derek’s leaning forward slowly, bending to press a lingering kiss against Stiles’ lips before drawing back with a grin.

“Next round,” he promises, and honestly how can Stiles argue with that?


“You should call Cora,” Stiles says afterward, tracing idle patterns across Derek’s bare chest. Derek’s face, when he looks up, is twisted in something of a grimace, and Stiles snorts. “Not about… I mean, not that I’d mind bragging, but she’s your sister so, you know. Weird and gross.” Derek leans back, rolling his eyes, and Stiles contemplates biting a mark into one of Derek’s pecs.

“It might be good to have her close by for a while,” Derek admits, some time later. “If she wants to come.”

“She wants to come.”

Derek pulls a face, but reaches for his phone.

Ten minutes later, a new text buzzes in.

Already on my way, dumbass. Christmas is for family. I’m forwarding the flight details, pick me up at 9

Stiles looks up from the message, grinning.

“Hey, maybe she can be the Alpha.”

Derek huffs, drops the phone, and rolls Stiles back into the rumpled sheets.


Stiles heads back to Scott’s while Derek goes to pick up Cora, and maybe there are one or two sideways glances at his neck once he (at Lydia’s insistence) takes off his scarf, but nobody says anything about it. …Well, his dad clasps a hand on his shoulder and mutters “later,” but his tone is gruff with obligation more than anything else. And anyway, later is later, and Stiles doesn’t have to worry about it yet.

He’s working himself up to meeting Chris Argent’s eyes when the man blindsides him by the snack table (freaking hunters and werewolves and their silent, stalker ways). He says that he’s glad Stiles is looking better, and a “yeah, you too. Welcome back” is falling from Stiles’ mouth, easy as anything, before he can even think about it. He doesn’t feel any overwhelming urges to apologize or beg for forgiveness, and then he’s holding out a hand and Argent is shaking it. And when Argent heads off to talk to Melissa, and Scott sidles over to him, eyeing him worriedly, he says “No, that was… I’m fine.”

And he actually kind of is.


It’s already almost midnight when Derek and Cora find their way to the house. Cora barrels into Isaac with a grin and a fierce hug, leaving Derek and Stiles hovering alone at opposite sides of the threshold. A few tentative seconds pass before Stiles’ gaze falls to Derek’s lips, and then Derek sighs softly and dips in, and somehow they’re kissing in front of everyone.

They fall into the slow, sweet drag of mouths, while Scott groans and someone – Lydia, it sounds like – exhales “finally.” It takes too long for either of them to care enough to pull away.

When Stiles moves back it’s with a grin that borders on giddy, and Derek lets Stiles tangle their fingers together with a longsuffering sigh that’s obviously at least eighty percent show. When Stiles glances back Derek’s head is ducked almost shyly, and there’s a smile tugging at his lips too.

And maybe none of this is going to last. Knowing their luck it’ll all go to hell again in a week and a half, if not sooner. There are still shadows moving in the dark spaces of Stiles’ mind, voids he isn’t sure can ever really be filled.

But for now, cradled against Derek, their eclectic pack gathered around them and counting off the seconds ‘til Christmas, Stiles decides he’s just going to savor this feeling.

Together, safe, surviving, and working their way back towards fine.