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“You’ve already made your decision.”

Decision isn’t the right word. A plan, maybe. Ever since he found Laura, the only plan Derek’s had is to avenge her death and become the Alpha. Scott threw a wrench in it, or Peter threw a wrench in it by turning Scott, because if Derek becomes the Alpha, Scott becomes his pack, his responsibility, his to watch over and teach, and Derek just wants to get on with his life without an inexperienced beta dogging his heels. He’s too young for his own pack.

(Laura was too young.)

But if Derek lets Scott do it … the cure isn’t a sure thing. It’s a children’s story, and at worst he could end up with Scott with an Alpha’s powers, unable to control them and sure to get them both killed by the Argents. At best, he ends up alone.

Someone’s breathing hard behind him—probably Stiles, everyone else knows how to stay quiet—and Peter just looks up at him. Smiles. Whatever happens, his vengeance is over. Kate Argent is dead, and she was the one who killed their family. Derek can’t hurt him now.

He’s Derek’s only family, and Derek can’t hurt him now.

“Derek—”

It’s Scott, from near the Argent girl, the one who shot him. Derek steps aside and gets the one last vicious satisfaction of knowing he surprised his uncle in the end. “Do it.” If he gains the Alpha’s powers then Derek will fight him and it’ll be the end either way.

Scott doesn’t even have the courage to look when he slits Peter’s throat. He collapses to his knees and coughs and coughs and the Argent girl and Stiles run for him.

Derek would feel it if there were a new Alpha, and there isn’t. Before any of the Argents can stop him, he shifts and takes to the woods.

He thinks he hears Stiles say his name, but Stiles has Scott to worry about, and the police, and whatever reason he and Jackson smell like the hospital and someone else’s blood. Derek keeps running.

*

Chris Argent is the first one who shows up on his doorstep, two days after everything when Derek finally goes back to his family’s old home, still covered in crime scene tape. “Allison told me what happened that night. What you did for Scott.”

Derek doesn’t bother snarling. He doesn’t even bother looking away from where he’s cleaning blood off his wall. “Get out.”

“As far as I’m concerned, you’re safe here, Derek,” says Argent, backing towards the door. Good. He knows how werewolves feel about territory, then. “But I won’t be the only hunter to come through these parts. Kate spread the word before the Alpha killed her.”

If he trusted Argent, he would ask what kind of word is spreading about Kate. He doesn’t bother asking any questions. “She killed my family.”

“I know.”

“I won’t hurt anyone. And I’m still laying low anyway. The sheriff probably thinks I killed Kate.”

Argent laughs. He still doesn’t sound friendly. “The Stiles kid talked you out of it, and you were mostly cleared before anyhow. Just watch yourself in the woods for a while. Word is your uncle had a pack of trained dogs that got away the night he died.”

Derek doesn’t bother turning around, and Argent doesn’t stay. Unless Derek hurts someone, it’s probably the last he’ll see of him for a while.

*

Jackson shows up at his house a week later, as shaky and scared as he was the night Derek took him on his uncle’s orders. “I want it. I want to be like you. Come on.”

If Derek could, he would bite him. Better someone who wants the bite than someone like Scott, who wanted anything but. It doesn’t mean he can, though. “No.”

“I saved your ass that night! I’m not an idiot like McCall, okay? I want it. You give me the bite, or I … tell the Sheriff you threatened me. He’ll be—”

Derek snarls and slams the kid up against a wall, feels the supports shake. He can’t stay in the house much longer without it falling down around him. “I can’t, Jackson. Are you deaf? Only an Alpha can bite you.”

“But McCall—”

“I don’t want to hear about it. Get out, get off my property.”

“Jesus,” says Jackson, and Derek can smell the fear. He shoves Jackson away. Jackson goes, but he turns around at the door. “You should have killed him, you fucked everything up, and nothing—”

“Out!” He doesn’t bother trying to keep himself from shifting, and it’s the most satisfying thing he’s seen in too long, watching Jackson run.

*

It takes another two weeks for Stiles to show up, calling from the edge of the woods and not just walking through his front door. “Derek. Hey, Derek!”

Derek thinks about pretending he’s gone, that he’s left town. His car is hidden and it’s not like Stiles would ever know the difference. He doesn’t owe him anything anymore.

“Derek, if you’re in there and you’re not—Jesus. This is the stupidest—Derek!”

Chances are even if Derek stays where he is the kid will stay there shouting his name for five minutes and then come search his house, and it’s obvious from the food he’s stocked up on that there’s someone in residence. Derek goes outside. “What do you want, Stiles?”

“What, no hello? No ‘thanks, Stiles, I hear you came up with an awesome story to keep your dad from arresting me’?”

“Why are you here?”

Stiles is smart. He stays far enough away that Derek’s common sense would kick in before he got to him if he tried to attack. “Uh, because I’ve been grounded forever and this is the first time I’ve gotten out? Well, I’m still sort of grounded, but I get time off for hospital visits and my dad says he’s maybe considering letting me out before I go to college so there’s room for negotiation.”

Derek grits his teeth, but he manages to keep from shifting. “That still doesn’t explain why you’re here. Scott doesn’t need my help anymore.”

“I just wanted to make sure you’re okay, man. You know. Living in your creepy burned-down house in the woods above the dungeon your psycho ex tortured you—” He seems to finally process Derek’s expression. “Bygones! Lots and lots of bygones, we won’t talk about that, anyway, just a friendly house call.”

“What for?”

“I figured I’d at least get a nod for the whole getting you off America’s Most Wanted thing. Or that you wouldn’t beat me up or something.” Stiles puts his hands in his pockets. “Look, Scott won’t ever say it, but thanks.”

“I didn’t do it for him.”

Stiles takes a step back, like he’s getting ready to walk off again. He doesn’t turn his back, just like Chris Argent. “Yeah, you did. So … let me know if there’s anything I can bring you, or whatever. My dad’s probably wondering where I am, it took me longer to get out here than I figured, so I’ve gotta go, but I’ll be back.”

“Don’t bother,” says Derek, but it’s too quiet for Stiles to hear or he just ignores it, because he gives Derek a wave and backs off into the woods.

*

Stiles shows up again two days later. He smells like the hospital again. Derek doesn’t bother waiting for him to shout, this time. “I thought I told you not to come back,” he says from the porch.

“I brought you something,” Stiles calls, even though he’s close enough that Derek could hear a whisper, and waves a paper bag in front of him. “A peace offering, or whatever.”

Derek eyes him. “What for?”

“Because I saw it in the hospital gift shop and thought of you, why are you being so uptight about this?”

If Derek asks, Stiles will give a longer answer than Derek needs or wants, but he can’t help wondering who got hurt that night, if it’s someone else he knows. “Who’s in the hospital?”

Stiles starts, looks up at him and then drops his eyes. “Oh, you—right. You were all … locked up, and stuff, and then you weren’t around, and I guess you wouldn’t—the Alpha, he attacked, um … what does it mean when the bite doesn’t kill someone but it doesn’t heal either? I mean, she’s not a werewolf, but isn’t it one or the other?”

Of course he’s here to ask a question. Even without Scott there are still loose ends to tie up. “Probably means she has wolf in her family but isn’t a werewolf herself—like there were humans in my family. It isn’t unheard of. You should talk to the Argents about it, if you’re worried.”

“Yeah, funny, not married to the idea of telling them there might be another wolf around if Lydia ever wakes up.” Stiles looks up again like he’s expecting Derek to recognize the name and tell him he knows the girl’s family. Derek doesn’t know, and it’s painfully clear from how Stiles is acting just exactly why he’s so worried about her. Stiles worries at the bag he’s still holding a little and then throws it in Derek’s direction, a stronger throw than he’d expect from the scrawny kid. Derek catches it automatically. “Just do whatever with it, I don’t care. I figured …”

Derek puts the kid out of his misery and looks in the paper bag, then blinks and pulls out what’s inside. “A Scrabble dictionary? What the hell, Stiles?”

“You kept reading the dictionary when you were hiding out in my room.” Derek stares at him. “… You were just doing that so Danny wouldn’t try to make conversation, weren’t you? Okay, wow, I’ll just take that back and get you something else, like have you seen those three wolves shirts? I should get you one of those, that would be badass, and we can forget this ever—”

“It’s fine,” says Derek, thinks of the big old leather-covered dictionary that burned with the house, and the games of Scrabble he played with human cousins and, later, Laura, when they were too tired of running. “You didn’t need to thank me, but … thanks.” Stiles’s phone vibrates in his pocket. Derek nods towards it. “You should get that.”

He walks back inside before Stiles can say anything.

*

Derek goes for groceries and runs into Sheriff Stilinski. He almost makes it away clean, but he ends up ahead of the sheriff at the register. “Thought you’d left town,” says the sheriff, neutral. There isn’t even a hitch in his heartbeat.

“No.”

“You might want to stop by the station—you’ve got some wills to sort out, and we’d like to clear up some details.” He lowers his voice, and now his heart does speed up. “Stiles says you weren’t there, but you and I both know sometimes Stiles—”

“I’ll be by,” says Derek. He’ll have to seek out Stiles now, if only to find out what lies he’s been telling the police. “I heard the charges were dropped.”

The sheriff looks at Derek’s basket of steak and chips and things that won’t spoil. “Where are you staying, son? Not in the old house, I hope.”

“I’ll be by the station later this week,” says Derek, finishes paying for his food, and leaves.

*

His phone rings for the first time in weeks that night. Most of his New York friends have given up trying to call him by now, and Scott and Stiles have no reason to use the number anymore, but it’s Stiles’s name on the display. “What?”

“My dad says he saw you today, and that you’re supposed to go to the station and give a statement, I thought you might want to know what we’ve been telling him.”

“About my uncle and his trained dogs?”

“Animal attacks, Derek, and it’s not like he believes it but I think he’s pretty convinced at this point that he doesn’t want to know and that everyone who he would have arrested is dead anyway.” He sighs. “Except Scott. That … would be bad. Scott’s still kind of freaking out about that when he isn’t—anyway, do you want to hear or not?”

“Tell me.”

*

Derek doesn’t see Stiles for another week after that, and when he does, for once it isn’t because Stiles came looking for him. He’s out for a run, not shifted, just enjoying the day, when he smells him off in the woods, where there aren’t any paths and nobody would find him if he got hurt, and Derek turns around and tracks the scent to make sure he’s safe out there. Just because Derek is the only werewolf in the area now doesn’t mean the Argents or others won’t make trouble.

Whatever he’s expecting, all he finds is Stiles flat on his back on top of a big rock, going up on his elbows when he hears Derek coming. “Whoa, hi. Didn’t expect to see you.”

“What are you doing out here?”

Stiles shrugs and sits up. “Nothing. I was bored so I thought I’d go for a walk.”

“Yes, I can see you’re walking.”

“Turns out taking walks by yourself is kind of boring, who knew? I mean, unless you’re Thoreau or whatever, you’re probably like Werewolf Thoreau, but I was bored, so I decided to stop. And be more bored. Staring at the sky is way less fun when I’m not drunk. But Scott’s with Allison pretty much full-time now and I’ve run out of coma-things to say to Lydia and seriously, you can’t stop me? Normally you would be threatening to beat my head against a tree if I don’t shut up by now.”

Derek blinks. “You want me to threaten you?”

“Noooo,” says Stiles, with an expression on his face like Derek is the dumbest person he’s spoken to all week (which can’t be true, he spends time with Scott on a regular basis). “It’s just weird that you aren’t.”

“You helped me out with the police. I owe you.”

“If it helps, I also helped Scott out with the police.” Derek does his best to control the snarl that tries to get out every time he thinks of Scott, but judging by the way Stiles’s heartbeat spikes and he skitters back on his rock he doesn’t do a very good job. “Right, stupid, of course that doesn’t help.”

“You aren’t at lacrosse practice,” Derek offers. An olive branch, or as much of one as he’s willing to give.

Stiles’s mouth twists, like somehow that’s the wrong thing to say to him just like mentioning Scott’s part in the Alpha’s defeat is the wrong thing to say to Derek. “Funny thing, skipping games the first time you make first line tends to get you on the bench pretty permanently, especially when your coach doesn’t know you’re fighting werewolves.” He shrugs and looks away, and Derek can almost pretend that he doesn’t know how much this upsets him. “I’m thinking of quitting. I don’t even have to worry about calming Scott’s shit down every time someone looks at him sideways anymore.”

“No. You don’t.”

Stiles flops onto his back. “It’s like the last couple of months never happened,” he says to the trees overhead. “Cause Scott won’t talk about it, and Allison won’t talk about it, and Jackson’s decided I’m beneath his notice again, and Lydia still isn’t waking up, so unless I want to get all buddy-buddy with you or Allison’s dad it didn’t happen.”

Derek thinks about Laura, and hospital visits to his uncle, and a life he left behind in New York and isn’t sure he can get back to, thinks about getting chased all over town by the police and helping and being helped by a bunch of idiot teenagers who hated him more often than not. “It happened,” he says.

“Yeah,” says Stiles, and there’s something in his tone and in the stutter in his heartbeat that might mean something if Derek knew what happened the night his uncle died. “It did.”

There isn’t anything to say to that, so Derek nods and goes back to the path to finish his run.

Stiles is right. It is boring, at least when he’s alone.

*

Derek runs into Scott and Allison in the woods three days later, too distracted to notice their scents until too late.

None of them says a word.

*

“I’m thinking of becoming a hermit in the woods,” says Stiles the next time Derek sees him, close to Derek’s property but not quite on it, sitting under a tree like he’s waiting. “Do you have any hermit-ing tips?” Derek stares at him. “I mean, yeah, maybe you’ve got, like, secrets or something, but things are seriously tense right now and I’m thinking a life of solitude and berries in a cave is sounding pretty good.”

“There are no caves in these woods,” Derek says slowly, instead of why do you keep coming to find me?

“So I’ll build a tree house, that would be awesome.” Stiles sighs and leans back against the tree, staring up. “Scott got demoted on the lacrosse team cause he can’t play without all the magical werewolf powers. Coach is pissed and doing drug tests, Jackson is smug, and Scott’s losing it. So, hermit. The only sane people around are you and Allison and Allison is busy keeping Scott occupied.”

“So you came to talk to me … because Scott is pouting about lacrosse.”

Stiles shrugs. “His pouting sort of eclipses mine.” He pauses. “I would be a really lousy hermit, wouldn’t I?”

“Yeah.” He’s pretty sure Stiles wouldn’t last a day without talking someone’s ear off. “Are you still thinking about quitting the team?”

Like that’s all it takes, Stiles shakes off his serious expression and grins up at Derek. “You remembered! And, uh … I don’t know. Coach likes me even less now, he thinks I was in on Scott taking steroids or something and he still calls me Bilinski. I mean, if he kicks Scott off I’ll probably go too, but the bench post-werewolf isn’t really any different from the bench pre-werewolf.”

Derek recognizes the opening, a place where he should say something supportive, but there isn’t anything to say. It’s lacrosse, a stupid high-school sport, and he doesn’t know how Stiles can still worry about it in light of everything else that’s happened. “Don’t let what Scott does make your decisions from you,” he snaps after too long a silence, because he may not care about lacrosse but he doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to forgive Scott for not wanting the life Derek is now stuck in alone.

Stiles snorts. “Right, like that’s going to happen.”

“That’s up to you.” Derek stares at him for a few seconds, nothing left to say. Stiles doesn’t seem to be trying to end the conversation, and Derek was just gearing up for a run, so it’s surprisingly easy to say “Come on, we’re going for a run” and haul Stiles to his feet.

“Wow, yeah, a run with a werewolf, that seems like a great plan.”

Derek forces a smile onto his face. “Don’t worry, I’ll go easy on you.”

Stiles groans. “I’m doomed.”

*

Stiles comes back three times in the next week and they go running. Derek works him too hard for him to fill the silence with chatter, but Stiles doesn’t even seem inclined to try when they pause so he can put his hands on his knees and wheeze.

It’s easy to make it a habit to steer his runs by places Stiles has easy access to so they can fall into step for a few miles, until Derek gets impatient and Stiles loses his stamina. But after those three runs, Stiles stops coming. No warning, and it isn’t that they’ve scheduled anything, but one week goes by, and then two, and Derek’s phone stays silent and Stiles’s scent doesn’t get anywhere near the woods.

By the end of the third week, the only people Derek have talked to are a few cashiers at the grocery store, and he feels like he’s going to jump out of his skin even though the full moon passed without incident. As much as he hates it, Stiles is the only connection he has in Beacon Hills now, and for some reason he’s stopped coming without telling Derek.

If he were hurt, Derek would have heard, would have found out somehow, he’s sure of that. The sheriff would have come to question him or it would have been at the papers at the register in the store. So maybe he’s grounded again, or he’s decided in the end that whatever debt he thought he owed Derek is over with, and Derek grits his teeth and contents himself with that for three more days, wondering if he should make plans to leave town and find another pack that might take him in. Mostly, he works on building a cabin on his property—it will take more money and skill than he has to fix the house, and it’s useless to have a home that large when it’s just him.

The first thing he does when he has four walls, a roof, and a floor is drag one of the less charred bookcases form the house in. He puts his few books on it—a few favorites from New York he picked up before he left in a hurry, the even fewer that survived the fire, and his Scrabble dictionary.

Then second thing he does is call Stiles.

*

“Dude, are you okay?” asks Stiles the second he picks up the phone.

“What?”

Derek can hear him breathe on the line. “You called me. I’m just wondering why, that’s all, making idle conversation since, you know, you only ever call when you’re being chased by the cops or hunters or both.” He groans. “Are the Argents after you again? I thought they were chilling, they’ve all been staking out Lydia like they’re afraid she’s gonna wolf out any second and—”

“Lydia,” Derek interrupts before Stiles can get going. “She’s the one you mentioned. The one my uncle attacked.”

“Yeah, she woke up. A couple days after the last time I saw you. I figured you probably heard somewhere, so I didn’t let you know.” He pauses. “Did you not know? It was all over the papers for a couple days. She’s even out of the hospital now, back the same as always, nothing really different except she’s got a nasty scar and an even nastier case of not-talking-about-it, which sort of sucks.” Derek doesn’t know what to say about that. “You didn’t know,” Stiles says slowly after a few seconds.

It’s easy to assume Stiles is stupid. He babbles and he misses things, it doesn’t take a werewolf to know when he’s lying, and he doesn’t know when to give up. What Derek always has to remind himself is that Stiles did as much to train Scott as he did, that he stood up to an Alpha and knows how to think quickly when something goes wrong. “I didn’t know,” he agrees, and doesn’t give anything else away.

“I guess I just figured someone would—”

Derek can almost hear him putting the pieces together, and it would be funny if he didn’t think all he would get out of it would be pity. Stiles is remembering that Derek’s family is gone, that he hasn’t made any friends being a wanted fugitive, that Scott isn’t going anywhere near the woods unless he and Allison want time alone and that Stiles disappeared without warning him. “I don’t read the papers,” he says. “You should know by now that there are a lot of lies in them.”

“Right.” Stiles pauses, and Derek almost hangs up before Stiles can do something stupid like apologize. “I quit the lacrosse team.”

“Why would I care?” snaps Derek, automatic and too fast.

“But my dad thinks I should still play a sport, burn some energy off, so I was thinking I would go out for track when it starts, but I’ll need some more practice first, so I’m thinking I should start going running. Got any paths to recommend?”

That’s probably pity. Derek recognizes pity when he hears it, but Stiles is too eager for that to be the only reason, and Derek is willing to see what the other reasons might be. He may as well not stay in Beacon Hills, if he doesn’t see anyone at all. “I was going to see what sort of trails there are further in the woods tomorrow.”

“Awesome,” says Stiles, assuming it’s an invitation. Derek lets him assume. “I’ll meet you at your house after school.”

*

They go running.

Stiles talks more and more as he gets used to Derek’s pace, about school and his father and Jackson and Lydia and Danny but never, ever Scott or Allison. The day he chatters through a whole run without having to stop to gasp once, Derek picks up the pace, and gets a week’s worth of near-silence before Stiles starts to get used to it again.

Sometimes, Stiles invites him back to his house, where there’s running water and internet, always when the sheriff is away, and Derek does his laundry and takes a shower and eats a meal with vegetables in it and always does the dishes before he leaves. He puts up with Stiles talking and helps him with his homework and tries to ignore the college search books Stiles’s dad has started leaving out.

It helps that Stiles ignores them too.

*

He runs into Chris Argent at the gas station, the only place he goes besides the grocery store and Stiles’s house. Argent raises his eyebrows. “I hadn’t heard from you. Figured you would have left by now, found a new pack.”

“You of all people know that isn’t easy.” He misses the closeness of having a pack, even when it was just Laura, but he’s never been part of one outside his family and doesn’t think it would be the same. It wasn’t the same with Scott, to the extent that they were pack. “Are you going to tell me to get out?”

“Not as long as you haven’t hurt anyone.” Argent finishes putting gas in his car but doesn’t move to pay and leave. “Heard Allison and Scott talking the other night, about how much time you’re spending with the Stilinski kid. Be careful.”

Derek won’t give him the satisfaction of telling him how careful his is around full moons, avoiding Stiles whenever he can and encouraging him to be inside with his window shut and locked. He’s under control, he’s never hurt anyone while shifted unless he meant to, but Stiles is all he has and he’s aware, painfully so, of just how fragile he is every time he falls behind with a cramp while they’re running or shows up reeking of the medication he uses to keep himself focused. “I can’t give him the bite. Wouldn’t if I could.”

Argent smiles. “As long as we understand each other.”

*

“Go home,” says Derek when Stiles shows up sniffling and sneezing, in the throes of a cold bad enough that Derek would be surprised if he even went to school.

Stiles’s attempt at a snort turns into a cough. “No, we had a date—I mean, not a date, a man-date, a totally manly outing where we set it up before hand and will be running all over the woods again so the track team won’t keep me benched, even though I don’t have definitive proof that you actually can be benched in—”

“I can smell the fever. We’ll run when it won’t kill you.”

“Ha,” says Stiles. “Knew you cared.”

Derek chooses to ignore that in favor of catching Stiles when he wobbles and steering him back towards where he always parks. “Stiles, you idiot, did you drive here? Why the hell would you be that stupid? You have my number, you could have called and cancelled.”

“So I could sit on my sofa and die slowly of boredom? No thanks.”

“So you could rest and eat soup, doesn’t your father know you’re sick? He should have taken away your keys.”

Stiles’s smile is more smug than is good for him. “I figured out where he keeps them. Didn’t want to leave you in the lurch.”

“Keys.” Stiles scowls at him. “Keys, Stiles, I’m not letting you drive when you have a fever. You’re a cop’s kid, you should know better.”

Stiles complains all the way back to the Jeep, but he lets Derek get in the driver’s side when they get there and buckles in. The ride is quiet, Stiles too busy sniffling and snorting and searching desperately for tissues to be as annoying as usual. “Do werewolves get colds?” he wonders as they get closer to his house.

“Not often, and we heal quickly.”

“Man, best argument I’ve heard yet for letting your uncle give me the bite,” says Stiles, leaning back against the headrest.

Derek slams on the brakes. “What?”

Stiles jumps. “Easy, easy, this isn’t your stupid sports car, my dad will kill me if I screw up the brakes and I can’t afford to fix them!”

“My—the Alpha, he—”

“Oh, wow, right. I sort of forget what you were and weren’t there for. He offered to bite me, that night, figured it would make Scott more willing to work with him if I was in the pack too.” He shrugs. “I said no.”

And if he hadn’t, would he be dead now? If he wasn’t he would be a werewolf, part of Derek’s pack—but he’s already the closest to pack that Derek has, and he may be fragile as a human but at least he doesn’t have to worry about the bite killing him. “Good.”

“What, don’t want me as a werewolf buddy?”

“Shut up, Stiles, don’t be stupid.”

Stiles doesn’t. He talks at Derek for the whole drive to his house, wandering from subject to subject as his fever climbs, and Derek drags him inside when they get there with a little more force than he means to because Stiles sounds uncomfortably close to delirium. He finds some fever relievers in the medicine cabinet, some canned soup in a cabinet, and installs Stiles on the couch with a blanket while he takes care of all of it. When the soup is made, Stiles whines until Derek takes out their old battered Scrabble board and they play a game, and then another one when Stiles insists Derek was cheating and somehow using his werewolf senses to pick out the good letters, and then another because Derek grudgingly admits he’s enjoying himself.

Sheriff Stilinski shows up around seven and tenses when he sees Derek sitting cross-legged on the floor across the coffee table from the couch where Stiles is curled up and half-asleep staring at his Scrabble tiles. “Derek,” he says with a nod.

“Stiles showed up sick for one of our training sessions this afternoon,” Derek explains, standing up even though it makes Stiles whine and start complaining. “I brought him home and thought I would keep him company till you got here. I’ll go.”

There’s a long moment of silence, the sheriff’s hand on his belt, where he keeps his weapon. “Thanks,” he says at last. “Stay for dinner. We’ll have soup.”

Derek starts to reiterate that he should leave but Stiles groans from the couch. “Derek, come on, I have an awesome word on my board right now, you can’t just leave.”

He stays, ignores the speculative looks the sheriff keeps giving him, and leaves when Stiles falls asleep on the couch halfway into a round of Go Fish, since his patience for Scrabble deserted him after dinner. Sheriff Stilinski follows him to the door. “The training sessions have been helping him,” says the sheriff before Derek can excuse himself. “I know you probably think he’s some kid who just shows up for your runs, but he and Scott are fighting over something right now and he looks better after he goes out for a run.”

Derek stores the questions that brings up away for later. “It’s something to do.”

“What I’m saying is I know I arrested you and neither of us likes each other, but you’re helping my kid out, so as far as I’m concerned you’re welcome in my house. Come back for dinner sometime, we mostly live off pizza and mac ‘n’ cheese, but it’s something.”

“Tell Stiles if he shows up before he’s healthy I’ll make him run sprints for an hour,” Derek says by way of answer, and leaves, runs the whole way home and tries not to think about sitting with a hand of cards watching Stiles slip off to sleep and how much like home it all felt.

*

“Made the team, coach says I’m going in for a bunch of events!” Stiles says over the phone almost a month later, and Derek shifts his cell to his other ear, trying to figure out the plumbing under the sink he’s just installed. He’ll need to start calling in electricians and plumbers soon, to finish off the cabin. “We’re going out to dinner to celebrate.”

“Good for you,” says Derek. “Have fun.”

Stiles sighs like Derek is stretching his patience. “No, dumbass, ‘we’ includes you. Put on something that doesn’t have rabbit guts on it and we’ll pick you up at six.”

Derek looks down at his shirt, dirty from the plumbing but free of anything else. “That was once,” he snaps.

“My dad will be there, remember? No blood,” says Stiles, and hangs up the phone.

Because the sheriff still glares at Derek more often than he doesn’t, Derek finishes what he can with the piping under the sink and puts on clean clothes, just in time for Stiles to honk the horn on his Jeep from the road—the acoustics around Derek’s place are really weird, Dad, it’s like you can hear everything, he said once when the sheriff raised his eyebrows at how suddenly Derek shows up when they swing by—so Derek can go out to meet them. He goes, and for once the sheriff grins at him and shakes his hand, and Stiles babbles on in the background about the relay and the races and how he thinks he wants to try pole-vaulting.

“No,” says Derek automatically, only to find that Stiles’s dad says it at the same time.

“You two are no fun,” Stiles sulks, but he keeps on grinning and tapping out a tune on his steering wheel.

They go to a diner that Derek recognizes from when he was a kid. When Stiles whines, the sheriff orders a salad instead of fries, but he eats half of Stiles’s anyway and gets the biggest cheeseburger they have. Stiles talks about the team, with his father commenting occasionally, and Derek eats his burger and adds to the conversation whenever Stiles kicks him.

At the end of the meal, the sheriff shakes Derek’s hand while Stiles rambles at the waitress about the track team. “Never thought I’d be saying this to you, son, but thanks.” He pauses. “Stiles tells me you’re building a little cabin on the property. Let me know if you need the number for an electrician or something, and I know some demolition companies who’d take the big house down cheap for you.”

“I might ask you about that,” says Derek, just in time for Stiles to interrupt them with yet another replay of what the coach said about his running.

*

“So, I was wondering,” says Stiles, a few weeks later, sitting on a rickety, soot-stained chair that Derek moved from the house to his cabin, and stops.

Derek rolls his eyes. “You wonder a lot of things, you’re going to have to be more specific than that.” He considers some of what Stiles asks him. “Unless it’s about werewolf mating habits, I still don’t want to have that conversation.”

“Dude, no.” Stiles makes a disgusted face like he hasn’t asked about it on three separate occasions. “It is seriously not my fault that half the theories about werewolves on the internet are porn, I’m just running out of other questions to ask, and this isn’t even a werewolf question! I was just wondering …”

“Spit it out, Stiles.”

“I’m getting to it! Look, we’ve got a meet at the school next week, first one of the season, so I was wondering if you would come and cheer me on. Well, not cheer me on, you aren’t really the cheering type, but you could, you know, glare at the other teams more than you glare at me?”

His first instinct is to say no—almost no one in Beacon Hills recognizes him any more, but some might, and he’s probably still a wanted criminal in their minds, at least more than he is the object of pity he used to be for them—and so is his second. Stiles is fiddling with the hem of his shirt and not looking at him, though, and Derek knows exactly how much they owe each other, in the wake of everything, and one afternoon on the bleachers at a high school won’t kill him.

“Fine.” He doesn’t bother looking at Stiles to see his reaction. “I’ll cook you dinner afterwards.”

Stiles laughs and looks around the cabin, which doesn’t have a stove installed yet. “With what?”

“You run, let me figure that out.”

*

Derek ignores Sheriff Stilinski’s invitation to sit with him near the front of the bleachers and goes to the back row instead. He’ll be able to see Stiles fine either way, and he’ll attract less attention if he’s out of sight of most of the audience.

He doesn’t recognize most of the crowd, not that he expects to, and after a few sideways looks they leave him alone. Stiles, down with the rest of the team, looks up at the bleachers occasionally and waves when he sees Derek, but he keeps looking around afterwards. Every time he looks up, his face falls a little further, and Derek grits his teeth and tries not to assume that it’s Scott’s fault.

Sure enough, though, Scott and Allison show up, hand in hand, just as the meet is getting started. Allison catches Derek’s eye and nods when she sees him, but Scott doesn’t look even when she nudges him. Stiles looks up from where he’s being herded into place and some of the nervous tension goes out of him, which is the only reason Derek manages to make himself relax in turn.

Stiles gets third in two of his events and first in the third. He looks at the stands every time—sometimes at his dad, sometimes at Scott, but a surprising amount at Derek. Derek always makes a point of nodding back, and once after he does he catches Scott looking back at him, squinting something close to a scowl. Derek doesn’t bother to acknowledge him.

When Stiles is released, he heads right for his father, and Derek pays attention to any conversation but theirs even though he can easily pick Stiles’s voice out. Eventually, though, Stiles works his way up the stands and stops to talk to Scott. The conversation is short and awkward, Allison talking more than Scott does, but Scott congratulates him and Stiles is still smiling at the end of it when he finishes climbing the stands to see Derek. “So how much of all that did you eavesdrop on?” he asks when he’s close enough.

“Not much. Do you want to go home for anything?”

“Yeah, I should … take a shower. And stuff. I’ll drive over when I’m finished, unless you want me to meet you at a restaurant or something?”

“I said I was making you dinner, didn’t I? Come over whenever.”

Stiles fidgets for a second, and his heartbeat goes uneven, but in the end he just nods. “Yeah, yeah, definitely.” He pauses. “We aren’t eating, like, recently killed rabbit roasted over an open fire or something, right?”

Derek resists the urge to scrub a hand across his face, something he’s picked up from Stiles’s dad. “You are such a dumbass.”

“Okay, okay, just checking. I’ll see you in a while.” With that, Stiles clatters back down the stands and goes to catch up with his dad.

*

“Oh my God, seriously, werewolf barbeque?”

Derek doesn’t look up from the grill he has set up a little ways away from the cabin, where he’s flipping hamburgers and keeping an eye on some vegetables. “It’s the same as regular barbeque.”

Stiles drops something on the ground near the door and walks over. “Yeah, but it’s a werewolf cooking it.”

“Did you do this whenever Scott cooked for you while he was still—?”

Stiles laughs. “Dude, Scott is, like, the worst cook known to mankind. You just didn’t seem domestic or whatever.”

“It’s ground meat and a grill.”

There’s a pause. “Need any help?”

Stiles ends up burning half the buns because he doesn’t listen to Derek when he says they’re done, neither of them eats a single one of the vegetables that Derek made a point of buying, and Stiles spends the entire meal recounting every second of each race he was in even though Derek probably remembers every heartbeat of it better than he does.

Derek is happier than he’s been since long before Laura died.

*

Stiles smells like Scott more often, after that, but he comes to see Derek just as much and Derek goes to his house too, where he talks about the news with the sheriff and plays video games and board games with Stiles (when he isn’t forcing him to do his homework). Derek goes to every meet of Stiles’s that he can, and Stiles does the grocery shopping with him when he finally gets electricity and a refrigerator installed. Stiles buys him a lunar calendar and some stupid movie about Little Red Riding Hood as a joke, and Derek buys Stiles a red hoodie the next time he’s at a store in revenge.

They aren’t friends, exactly, Derek’s never done this with his friends and he’s willing to bet that Stiles hasn’t either, but he doesn’t need to put the right label on what they are yet.

*

“Danny asked if you’re my boyfriend today,” Stiles says one hot afternoon, on his back on the ground outside Derek’s cabin. He’s supposed to be doing math but neither of them is inclined to make it happen.

Derek doesn’t look up from his attempt to repair a table. “Why?”

“Um, I don’t know. Maybe because he’s not an idiot and figured out that I don’t have a cousin Miguel and that you actually happen to be Derek Hale, not-quite-felon, or maybe because you show up at all of my meets and sometimes practices and pick me up from school a lot and you know my dad.” Even if Derek didn’t recognize the tones of Stiles’s voice well enough to know that there’s a question under all that, he would hear the way his heart speeds up. “Possibly because Scott keeps not-talking about how I should be careful.”

“What did you tell him?”

“Do you think I’m stupid? I changed the subject.” He pauses. “Twice.” Another pause. “And then when everyone kept asking about it I said I figured I would be getting a lot more action if you were actually my boyfriend.”

Derek snorts and gets more satisfaction than he’d like to admit out of imagining Scott’s reaction to that. “You probably would, if your dad wouldn’t take out the shotgun.”

When he looks up, Stiles is grinning at the sky, and Derek hides a smile of his own. He doesn’t need to ask to know they’re on the same page. “Nah, he wouldn’t shoot you. No silver bullets or anything, even if he did, and I’m guessing that he wouldn’t do it considering he gave me an awkward bonus sex talk last week. And a bunch of things that the people at the CVS must have been really disturbed to see the sheriff buying.”

“Good to know,” says Derek. “Now come over here, if you aren’t going to do homework you can help me sand this table.”

When Stiles gets up and comes over, it’s not really a surprise when he kisses Derek instead of reaching for the sandpaper.

Derek kisses him back, and listens to their heartbeats hitch and stutter.