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Cross a Canyon (with a broken limb)

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The folder slaps down onto the low table in front of the couch, and Stiles feels a sweet sort of victory in the way Derek’s gaze startles to it.  The rest of the pack had already headed out, Stiles lingering back, fumbling with the straps on his backpack for nearly a full minute after the last person had trailed out the door. Apparently Derek had more or less written Stiles off as gone already, and now his eyes are on the folder – plain manila, unmarked – with an expression like he’s expecting something truly unpleasant to be lurking inside.

Which, rude, right? With Stiles comes awesomeness, Derek should know this.

Derek straightens out of his casual slouch on the couch, brows lifting as he looks back to Stiles significantly. He doesn’t reach out, and Stiles rolls his eyes.

“Just look, Derek.”

There are several sheets of paper inside, all marked with the Sheriff’s department letterhead. When Derek looks up again, his brows have gone furrowed.

“It’s an application.”

He says it carefully, like he’s not sure Stiles knows. Like he thinks maybe Stiles had somehow handed him the wrong one of the many manila folders he carries on his person at any given moment. Stiles, in his infinite mercy, takes pity on the guy and connects the last few dots for him.

“Yeah, for you. You’re welcome.” A short, empty pause. “I mean, this whole werewolf of leisure thing is cool and all but like… I think you’d be happier if you had something to fill your days, don’t you?” And then, when that garners exactly zero response from the guy, “My dad asked me to ask you.”

Derek finally gives him something at that: a look of such biting skepticism that Stiles thinks maybe he should be insulted on Derek’s behalf.

He shrugs.

“I mean, he didn’t say your name or anything, but he keeps saying he wants someone in the know about supernatural stuff, and then he gave me that look, you know, asking if I knew anyone who might be interested. And you’re like the most ‘in the know’ person we have, god help us, and the only one out of high school anyway so…”

Derek’s looking down again, lips pursing in a decidedly un-good way. Stiles snorts because it’s almost like he’s offended that Stiles’ dad hadn’t sent him an engraved invitation, and he’d never expected Derek to be delicate like that.

“Hey, he meant you. He’s been hinting at getting you on board since forever. He’s not gonna shoot you down if you go over there, ok? He’ll be psyched.” And, more importantly, finally get off Stiles’ back about it.

Because seriously, it’s getting out of hand. For a long time now – honestly, ever since all the insanity with the Benefactor last spring – the Sheriff has been making noises about how useful Derek had been to the investigations, how it’s too bad the department doesn’t have someone around full time to help out with the “magical whatsits” that show up from time to time. He’d even invited Derek over to a barbecue last summer for the sole purpose, Stiles is convinced, of loudly lamenting the lack of supernatural representation at the station. Derek apparently hadn’t gotten the hint.

Or maybe he’d just been politely ignoring it.

But he’s looking at the application now, his expression set into a faint frown. He’s actually reading through it though, so Stiles chalks that up to a win. Message delivered, civic duty accomplished. Whatever Derek decides to do next is up to him, and Stiles can wash his hands clean of it.

.-

“My dad says you haven’t been by.”

It’s an entire three weeks before Stiles brings it up again. Derek looks at him, brows lifting. The left one’s smeared with a trail of blood that runs all the way down his cheek and Stiles shrugs, conceding that this might not be the best time to talk about this but hey.

“What, we’re supernaturally investigating. It came to mind.”

Derek looks briefly torn between disapproving and amusement. It’s kind of awesome to witness, honestly, until the next gremlin launches itself out of a tree at Derek’s face.

They’re not actually gremlins. Probably. Lydia had, after a late night of researching, finally shrugged and declared them “probably some kind of miniature troll” which was way less helpful than her usual standard, but Stiles couldn’t complain. He hadn’t come up with anything better.

Derek had more or less just spent research time staring at the description and witness sketch of the creature spotted in the woods, without actually contributing anything. Stiles is halfway sure Derek had just been defaulting back to “broody and mysterious” to try and hide the fact that he had nothing to contribute but, hey, they all have their special skills.

Derek’s in his element now, snarling and clawing the creature off his face. It goes bouncing off into the darkness with a decidedly unsettling giggle. Stiles stares after it long enough to feel sure it isn’t just going to slam into some nearby tree and come ricocheting back again, and then turns an assessing gaze to Derek. There’s blood streaming down his other cheek now, temple to jaw, and something that might be teeth marks along his chin.

Stiles leans closer, grimacing at the way the skin visibly knits itself back together right in front of his eyes. That’s never going to stop being weird.

“Let’s hope troll gremlins keep staying rightfully intimidated of my bat, because huge facial scars would not be a winning look for me.”

“They’re not troll gremlins,” Derek mutters, but stays a step closer to Stiles than before as they continue their trek north through the trees.

Two minutes pass, Stiles switching between scouring the trees and side-eying Derek.

“But seriously, dude. He keeps giving me looks over dinner, ok? Yesterday he was talking this case and was all ‘too bad there’s no one in the department who could’ve gotten a head start on this thing.’”

“He has Parrish,” Derek offers, in that tone he always seems to believe will brook no argument.

You’d think he’d have learned by now.

“Parrish is in the know but he doesn’t know anything.” Honestly, Stiles’ dad probably has a better handle on the supernatural at this point, from Stiles-adjacent osmosis if nothing else. Parrish is still at the “let’s call everything a kanima” level of supernatural know-how. Aside from his frankly adorable research into banshees. “He really likes it when you come by to consult.”

“He can always ask me for advice,” Derek says, slightly more easily. Stiles hadn’t realized how tense Derek had been before.

Of course, that only makes him want to push this all the more.

“But you could be paid for it, man. You could flash your badge and pull people over for kicks and be like a semi-respectable member of society.”

Derek shoots him a look and Stiles waves a dismissive hand.

“Ok, so those last two things might not intuitively go together but—“

“Tell your dad thank you, but I won’t be applying for the job.”

And that should be the end of it. This is Derek’s life, Derek’s decision. Stiles has put the offer out there more than once, and now it’s time to let it go.

He lasts a grand total of three seconds.

“Why not, Derek?”

Because this is an awesome opportunity, ok? Handed on a silver platter, with literally guaranteed acceptance. And in this economy, with Derek’sbackground and penchant for surliness? Hell, he should be grateful as hell for the offer. He should be diving on this.

“This would be a good thing. You would be, like, a functioning adult. With a job, doing basically what you already do. And you’d be at ground zero, hearing about all the weirdness first hand instead of through the grapevine, and you’d be able to help my dad cover up the supernatural… everything, and you’d have a boss who’d understand if you want off for full moons or magical emergencies.”

And not that Stiles will ever mention this out loud, buthow cool would it be if the Beacon Hills Sheriff’s department ended up with a supernatural sub-division, like in the X-Files or the Dresden Files or any of those file-y type supernatural detective stories?

Pushing those thoughts firmly aside, he adds: “Why would you not take this, man? Give me one good reason and I’ll let it go, ok? Give me one actually logical reason.”

“I’m not qualified,” Derek snaps, and then immediately recoils, gaze dropping. Stiles feels his brows furrow.

“Dude, I just listed a dozen ways you’re qualified.” He pauses then, studying Derek’s slumped shoulders, the way he seems to be magically shrinking away into the shadows of the forest. “If this is some kind of… lack of self-confidence thing…” He really wouldn’t know what to do with that, honestly. He shifts vaguely, glancing around, as though Scott might come launching himself out of the trees like the gremlin had before, just in time to save Stiles from the dangers of attempting to pep talk Derek Hale.

Derek just lets out a low, frustrated seeming sound. He’s looking all kinds of uncomfortable, and this is a guy who’d just had a giggling foot long mini-troll latched on to his face five minutes ago. Derek knows uncomfortable, ok? But Stiles would bet his own Jeep from Derek’s expression and drawn shoulders that he’d much rather be going a round with a dozen of the little monsters than having to talk jobs with Stiles like a grownup. It’s weird.

He meets Stiles’ eyes, searching his face for a hint of weakness. Stiles arches a brow (‘cause nice try, but when does he ever back down from a mystery?) and Derek’s nostrils flare out, annoyed.

“No, Stiles. I’m not qualified.” He stresses the words, and Stiles frowns. Because the only requirements to join the department are some physical tests Derek could obviously handle in his sleep with both hands tied, a couple written things Stiles took for fun when he was twelve, a clean record... and yeah, Derek’s skirting the edge with that one but everything he’s ever been charged with has officially been dropped, and Derek knows they can’t hold that against him. And…

Stiles’ brows shoot up.

Oh.”

Derek rolls his eyes, turns away, and starts walking again. Stiles takes a beat before scuttling after. “Dude, really?”

“I was sixteen when the fire happened,” Derek says, smooth and sardonic, as though Stiles should have pieced everything together from that fact.

“Well yeah, but like… after?”

“After, Laura and I spent years moving constantly, wondering if the hunters were still after us. When we finally settled I was eighteen, two years behind.” He shrugs, but there’s still something too tense in his movements, too precise, like he’s forcing himself to act nonchalant.

This is the most Stiles has ever heard the guy talk about his time before coming back to Beacon Hills.

“Laura got her GED, but it never seemed worth it to me. The jobs I got never required so much as a reference.” Which opens up a whole other bag of questions, but Stiles holds his tongue. “And then I came back here and…” he shrugs pointedly.

“You never graduated,” Stiles says, just to say it. To test it out in the open air. That’s… huh.

He’s kind of surprised he’s so surprised by that, honestly. Derek had been homeless when he’d met him, then had spent way too many months seeming content to squat in a train car with a bunch of troubled teenagers. Nothing about that exactly screamed that he’d been pursuing academic success in New York beforehand.

“Tell your dad thanks,” Derek says again, and his tone is flawlessly polite, eyes focused on the trees around them for the not-a-gremlin.

Stiles finds himself falling behind, staring at Derek’s tensed shoulders through the darkness.

.-

When he gets home that night, Stiles spends about three minutes trying to research giggling mini-gremlins before he finds himself typing “GED requirements” into the search bar.

.-

Derek is frowning the second Stiles walks in, but it’s not until he’s settled on the worn leather couch, history book set out on the table in front of him, that he deigns to ask “What are you doing?”

To which Stiles, carefully feigning nonchalance, announces: “studying.”

Derek is silent for a few more seconds, and then: “Why are you doing that here?”

It’s a fair question. Derek’s loosened up some about his personal boundaries now that they’ve all accepted they’re one big, mushy, semi-definable pack-like group, but no one really drops by the loft outside of when they’re researching or during one of their rare pack bonding nights.

When Stiles stops and thinks about it, that’s actually kind of sad.

He flips a page, shrugging.

“I thought you might be interested.”

It’s a risk, obviously, coming here. Stiles has known Derek for a long time now and he’s mellowed out some, but it’s not like it’d be totally out of character for the guy to just haul Stiles off the couch and fling his ass out the door for butting in like this.

Instead, all he gets is a tired sounding sigh.

“Is this… are you mocking me?”

It comes out small and surprisingly vulnerable, like Stiles is pressing in on an old wound that’s never quite healed. It makes Stiles startle out of his purposely casual stance and look up because no, ok? Stiles is a master or mocking Derek’s stubborn werewolf ass at this point and deserves all the props for it, but there’s no way in hell he’s going to let Derek think he’s making fun of him about this. Not when that’s the opposite of why he’d decided to come here.

No,” Stiles says firmly, and something in his tone must resonate because Derek seems a little more settled on his next breath.

For a second it seems like he’s going to ask something else, but decides against it. Goes back to whatever he’d been doing before Stiles had come in (which seems to consist of a lot of manly brooding).

Stiles glances to his page, back to Derek.

Offers: “Social studies is a portion on the GED.”

It’s casual enough that he figures Derek will, at worst, scoff it off. He definitely doesn’t expect the way he goes tense all over, the damning tone in his voice when he spits: “I’m twenty-four, Stiles.”

Stiles rolls his eyes.

“And? You say that like you’re ancient.”

“I say it like I haven’t taken a class in eight years. None of this…  I don’t…”

He’s glaring at the book like he’s terrified of it, and it’s almost too strange for Stiles to think about. Not that Stiles thinks the guy doesn’t ever get scared, because Derek’s lost way too much in his life not to be scared pretty much constantly, but the idea that it’s a school book and not, say, a raging fang-toothed monster that pushes him to the edge is honestly kind of baffling.

And as uncomfortable as this whole encounter has been so far, Stiles can’t help feeling like he was definitely right in showing up here. If Derek’s that unhappy with things the way they are, that’s something that needs to be fixed ASAP.

And they’re sort of friends at this point, right? Or sort of pack, at least. This is the kind of thing pack does for each other. Even when it’s grossly, horribly uncomfortable for everyone involved.

“You… you read all the time, Derek.” He pauses, catches Derek’s pressed lips, and smirks in response. “Don’t give me that look, I’ve seen books all over this loft, and you don’t even own a TV so you’ve got to actually read them. My bet is you’ve got the language portion down cold. Social studies too, based on some of your selection.” Derek owns a frankly troubling number of biographies and war histories. Stiles has always figured he was trying to get tips on how to Alpha from army generals, which is both adorable and worrying, and explains so, so much.

He doesn’t say a word, though, and Stiles changes tacks. Maybe coming at this from a different angle to start…

“Look, just… I suck at studying on my own, you know? Focus problems. And Scott’s got Kira to ‘do homework with’ now, so it’d kind of help me out to have a study buddy.”

Derek snorts at that, relaxing visibly at the appearance of an ulterior motive. (Stiles worries about the guy’s human interaction skills sometimes, honestly. When someone’s got ulterior motives is not the time to start trusting them.)

When his gaze skates back to the book again this time, there’s a thoughtful, curious, almost longing look in his eyes.

“I don’t have anything to do right now. I could help you study.”

Stiles fights a smirk, snagging the book from the table and tosses it to Derek, who catches it easily.

“How generous of you,” he can’t help saying, but manages to keep his tone from falling into outright, gleeful mocking. “So, trickle-down economics.”

.-

The weird thing is how easy it is to settle into their new routine once it’s decided. It’s not like Stiles is a stranger to pouring over books at the loft (although Derek’s usually there more in a looming capacity than actually digging into the research along with him). Still, Stiles thinks he should be more weirded out about how natural it feels to just head over to the loft after school, tossing notes or study questions at Derek and letting him scan through them while Stiles scrounges for snacks in the kitchen.

Or maybe he shouldn’t be, because honestly? Derek makes it easy.

Because it turns out that the guy’s even better at history than Stiles had anticipated, and surprisingly in touch with modern politics. He settles into “helping Stiles study” with a sort of smugness that’s frankly annoying, tossing out facts and dates and insights in a way that leaves Stiles wondering what kind of a student Derek had been back in high school. If he’d been the kind of guy who’d corrected the teacher, if he would’ve gotten into debates with Stiles the way he does now, the way none of his actual classmates ever manage to.

Or if he was more like Lydia, sitting at the back of the classroom, smirking to himself every time someone else got a fact wrong, too cool to contribute to class discussions and acing every test anyway.

And the unexpected bonus (or maybe not so unexpected) is that Derek’s actually kind of hot when he gets his nerd on. Not that he hasn’t been hot always, because that’s about as much news as Scott being hopelessly optimistic. But there’s abstract “yeah, that guy could probably do porn” hot and then there’s Stiles wants to climb that like a tree right now hot. And if half a lifetime of obsessing over Lydia Martin has taught him anything, it’s that he’s got a hopeless intellect kink.

He can’t help it. Wordplay is foreplay, alright? And having Derek correct him on European regime changes, or sneer over unethical court decisions of the twentieth century, kind of leaves Stiles wanting to crawl onto his lap and bite his stupid, brilliant mouth.

It’s not like it’s new for him to have X-rated thoughts about one of his friends though, and he doesn’t dwell on it. It’s not like he hasn’t somehow fallen into a social circle of people who could put supermodels to shame. Not like anything would ever come of it anyway, or that he’d ever want it to outside of a fantasy.

Or like Derek would want it to, even if Stiles did. Which he doesn’t.

There’s a hiccup about a week into the tutoring, when Stiles comes into the loft bearing his laptop instead of his usual set of notes. Derek looks skeptical the second Stiles sets it on the coffee table, moreso when he opens it up and gestures for Derek to sit in front of it.

He shoots Stiles a look, which he returns with a pointed smile.

“It’s called a computer. You type words with the little alphabet letters there, and the flat part at the front is the mouse pad—”

“I know what a laptop is, Stiles.”

Derek’s a bundle of obvious tension, and Stiles is already second guessing bringing the laptop. He knows perfectly well that Derek’s a (semi) functional modern person, but the guy obviously has a fragile comfort zone when it comes to academics, and Stiles is starting things off today by pushing him right out of it. Which is kind of the opposite of what he needs, because Derek’s probably not going to love what he has planned.

They haven’t actually mentioned the possibility of GEDs since that first day, have been playing up the “Stiles’ study buddy” front for all it’s worth. But Stiles pretty much just shattered that fragile illusion, since the website Stiles had pulled up has the letters printed right there in big, bold blue lettering.

“Practice tests, Derek,” Stiles says lightly, turning on his heel and heading toward the kitchen. Back into routine. He’s not going to make a big deal of this, and hopefully Derek will follow his lead. “Best way to see where you stand, right?”

Because there are websites for everything, a fact of life that is both awesome and terrifying (and more often than Stiles will openly admit, both). This time that fact means that there are places for Derek to take practice GED tests online. There are all kindsof resources, actually, which could probably help Derek out much more than just throwing class notes a year ahead and eight years behind Derek’s own schooling will be.

As long as Derek actually agrees to look at them.

At the edge of the kitchen Stiles can’t help pausing, glancing back to see Derek still on the same screen, staring down the computer like he’s expecting it to just fizzle to black under his damning gaze. But then, with a huff that Stiles hopes is a laugh at his own ridiculousness, he jabs his finger down again, clicking the link for the first set of social studies questions.

Stiles rolls his eyes pointedly at the back of his head, and heads into the kitchen.

When he gets back a full minute and a half later, Derek hasn’t bolted, the computer’s still intact, and nothing and no one seems on the verge of an imminent breakdown. He drops down onto the couch, crunching into his apple, and pulls out his copy of Invisible Man to feign studiousness.

Spends about thirty seconds reading before his eyes slide up past the book.

Derek’s eyes are narrowed the same way they do when they’re trying to parse out an enemy’s weak spot, his lips moving faintly as he reads through the questions. Every time he decides on an answer, his mouth quirks in that quick, smug way Stiles has become way too familiar with from their recent debates. He chooses his answers with jabs that leave Stiles honestly worried for the survival of his mouse pad.

Still, when Derek finishes his first set of twenty-five questions with a score of twenty-two and the glowing praise of “Likely to Pass,” Stiles is too busy grinning and trying to entice Derek into a fist bump to really be annoyed at the harsh treatment.

Likely to pass, dude,” he crows, hanging off the back of the couch, fist still raised as Derek huffs in mock (mock, Stiles knows it) exasperation, making his own way back to the kitchen. “You don’t have to do your victory dance in private, Derek. Come on, twenty-two, that’s awesome. You’ll be the smartest deputy at the station.”

“I didn’t say I’d take the job,” Derek calls back, but it’s the first time the guy has so much as acknowledged the job would be his to take, if he wanted it, and Stiles falls back onto the couch and pulls up the Domino’s website, deciding to celebrate one subject squared away with a victory pizza.

.-

The second social studies test comes up with a score of sixteen and a tag of “Too Close to Call” that leaves the pizza tasting like dust in Stiles’ mouth. Derek doesn’t react at all, and the lack of that smug little twitch is enough to tell Stiles the guy’s as good as panicking.

“We’ve only been at this a week,” Stiles offers, faint. It had been stupid to get ahead of themselves like that, to assume that Derek’s personal interests would overlap with every obscure thing tests might decide to throw at him.

He slides the laptop out from in front of Derek, ostensibly so he can copy the questions he’d missed to study later. But really so he can scroll carefully away from those damning black words.

Too close to call.

It’s been a week. They’re fine.

.-

The thing about secretly tutoring the member of a werewolf pack, while your best friend is the Alpha of said werewolf pack is, well.

“So you’ve been hanging out with Derek a lot lately.”

The observation comes out of nowhere in the middle of lacrosse practice. Stiles’ gaze shoots to Scott, and he promptly takes a ball to the chest.

Fuck,” punches out, his hand going to scrub at the ache. Up the field, Danny lifts his brows in an unapologetic “what can you do” expression before catching another ball lobbed at him by Kira. It’s a good distraction for all of six seconds before he turns to find Scott still looking at him, all expectant interest.

Stiles misses the days when the sight of his girlfriend would completely distract Scott from anything, damn his growing maturity.

“You, Derek?” He presses. “You smell like him all the time.”

Which, creepy, ok? Stiles is never going to be totally ok with that whole wolfy scenting thing.

It’s a cool February afternoon, and he and Derek have been studying together for a little over three weeks. He’d honestly expected more of a head start before he’d have to figure out a way to explain this. Luckily, he is Stiles Stilinski, Truth Dodger Extraordinaire. He shrugs, dragging the lacrosse ball back into his net.

“Well, we still have to figure out what the deal is with those troll-gremlins, right?”

Which is true, even if the things have been keeping to the deep preserve so far, and official Sheriff Department Warnings about wild animals have managed to at least temporarily warn off any potential hikers. It also has nothing to do with what Stiles and Derek have spent the past few weeks doing together, but what Scott doesn’t know won’t hurt him.

…Unless the troll-gremlins hurt him.

Scott’s eyes light up.

“Oh really? I thought we were just waiting on Argent’s contacts. Do you have some kind of lead?”

Damn Scott’s newfound inquisitiveness. If Stiles lobs the ball past his ear, will his canine instincts kick in and send him chasing after it?

He weighs the ball along with his options, and ends up shrugging through a wince.

“Not a lead, really? But you know, Derek’s got all the extra, lifetime supernatural membership experience going on, so maybe he’s got something buried there he just hasn’t thought of yet?”

It’s not a good answer, and even Scott’s undying optimism seems to deflate, hearing it. Stiles turns away, adding a task to his mental register: survive senior year, help Derek graduate, figure out what’s lurking in the Beacon Hills preserve this semester.

.-

It takes over a month for the pair to ease their way past history and language, but eventually Stiles realizes they’re not going to get anywhere by avoiding the subjects Derek really needs to study.

Derek’s definitely not bad with numbers – his stocks and accounts allowing for his “werewolf of leisure” status make that clear enough – but apparently there’s a huge disparity in overlap between what kind of math you need to graduate high school and what you’ll actually use in the real world.

Who knew, right?

But it’s not that bad. It’s pretty much expected, honestly. Derek’s jaw barely twitches at all when the first practice test comes back with an eight out of twenty-five: “Not Likely to Pass.”

So Stiles doesn’t see it coming at all when, about three weeks into February, gets a cryptic don’t come by text from Derek.

It’s Wednesday, which has become one of their regular days for doing this. It’s not like the rest of the pack knows about that though, so Stiles figures one of them must have dropped by unexpectedly. Or maybe Derek’s realized he’s fallen behind on his weekly allotment of brooding and shirtless pushups.

He texts back: k, tomorrow?

The no he gets in return is decidedly unhelpful. He shoots back a question mark and, when that fails to earn any response, when then? Repetition is retention, man. Can’t slack now

Nothing comes back for nearly an hour, and Stiles is buried in an AP Lit essay, not totally sure how he’s managing to connect Wuthering Heights to cyborgs and dystopian literature – it’ll all come together eventually, it always does – when his phone buzzes.

This is pointless. Don’t come by anymore.

Which is pretty much a cry for help, because if Derek knows anything about Stiles he has to realize that telling him not to do something is the best way to make him do it. He saves his essay (it will make sense, he feels it in his bones. It’ll be epic) and is at the loft twenty minutes later.

“So, I feel someone’s having a crisis.”

Derek doesn’t seem surprised to see him, doesn’t even seem angry. There are papers scattered all over the table, hastily abandoned, and there’s a resigned set to his shoulders as he hovers in his window, sunset streaming in.

“Did I mistype?”

Stiles smiles back sweetly.

“I think so. Because what you wrote was ‘don’t come by’ and I get the feeling you were going for more of a ‘please save me from my insecure angsting, Stiles.’ Don’t worry, I read between the lines.”

“I don’t need a diploma.”

This rebound into denial is coming about two months later than Stiles expected it. He’d thought maybe Derek would pull something like this in the first week or two, but once they’d gotten past his first few bad practice tests, gotten settled into their routine, he’d kind of assumed they’d be good from there on out.

He rolls his eyes.

“Well, as luck would have it, it’s more of a certificate, not a diploma—“

Stiles.”

His muscles bulge out as turns to fully face Stiles, arms crossed. Stiles sidles forward, eyes sliding from his biceps to take in the scattered papers. He winces.

“You started looking at physics.” Derek had been a junior when he’d left school; physics is a senior class on the standard curriculum. Derek probably hadn’t even touched the subject before the fire.

“I’ve gotten along fine without graduating, Stiles. Plenty of people do.” It comes out patronizing. Stiles’ brows lift, and when Derek stares back, unflinching, he huffs out an incredulous laugh.

“Ok, fine. So I’ll go tell my dad that’s the reason you’re not taking the job, and we can—“

He’s pushing for a reaction, but doesn’t expect the way Derek’s palm slams into the nearest wall, hard enough to crack the concrete. Doesn’t expect the edge of a howl in his words as he snaps: “Why are you pushing this?”

“Because you should have the option, Derek.”

Derek goes still, hand fisted tight, a hint of blood staining his fingers from where the skin had broken on impact. His jaw is clenched, whole stance radiating rage, but anger is Derek’s default response to nerves, discomfort… hell, pretty much anything, and it doesn’t do a thing to deter Stiles.

“Because it’s fine if you want to be an independently wealthy vigilante of the night, but if you wantto look for a job you shouldn’t be held back because you don’t have some stupid certificate you’re definitely capable of getting. If you’re fine with it, that’s fine. But this whole secrecy thing? You Hulk smashing at the idea of anyone else finding out? Guess what, Derek, that pretty much says you’re not ok with it.”

Derek deflates a little, but the defensiveness doesn’t go out of his eyes. And Stiles is done, because there’s only so much helping a guy who’s not looking to be helped, and it’s not like he doesn’t have his own life to worry about anyway.

Nearly two months of his senior year wasted. That’s what he’s pissed about. If Derek was going to call this off, he could’ve had the decency to do it right off the bat.

“Just… whatever, Derek. It’s your life, do whatever you want.”

Derek doesn’t stop him from storming out.

And Stiles doesn’t care.

.-

It’s not like they avoid each other after that. They’re still semi-definable-pack mates, and it’s not like Stiles has a right to be mad over Derek’s life choices.

He does have a right to be mad over Derek being totally careless though, when Scott pauses during yet another fruitless troll-gremlin research session to ask:

“Hey Stiles, what are your calc notes doing here?”

Stiles looks up slow from his map, letting his pen drop from his mouth back to his hand. Derek’s frozen at the other end of the room, going full on deer-in-headlights for about a quarter second before his expression smoothes out. It’s been almost two weeks since the confrontation, and Stiles is not going to be a dick over this, even if Derek had been.

Take that, Derek. It’s called maturity.

“I…” he starts, falters, “brought them?”

Scott blinks at him, politely confused.

“I mean, not today, obviously.” Because they’d come over together from Scott’s house. “Must’ve forgot them some other time.”

Kira tilts her head, glancing from Stiles to Derek, who has pasted on a politely blank expression. Scott’s frowning now.

“Dude, why would you bring your homework to Derek’s?”

This is ridiculous. After all the time they’d spent sneaking around, and no, that sounds way worse than it is… just, studying around, together, they get caught after everything’s said and done because Derek can’t remember to hide or return his damn notes?

Kira makes a soft, thoughtful sound.

“Are you doing your homework at Derek’s?” She sounds weirdly pleased with the idea, because she’s a weirdo. A very sweet, off-kilter, adorable weirdo.

Lydia’s watching with an expression bordering on outright intrigued, and there really is no logical explanation for Stiles to travel across town just to do homework at Derek’s, so he can’t even really blameDerek for being absolutely zero help here. (Lies, he absolutely blames Derek. He blames him for all of this, what are those notes even doing out in plain view after all this time?)

Scott just seems confused, looking down at the papers like there might be some kind of explanation hidden on them. And it’s a hundred and twelve percent possible that Derek’s handwriting is on some of those pages; Stiles had given him equations to solve more than once, and somehow “Derek’s tutoring me, ok?” falls from his lips before he can really think about it.

The room takes a collective pause to absorb that. Derek’s eyes go soft and startled and then very, very carefully blank again as the group’s attention swivels slowly between them.

“Derek’s tutoring you in calculus?” Lydia sounds skeptical, which Stiles wholeheartedly takes as a compliment.

Because yeah, Stiles needs tutoring? From Derek? Please.

He clears his throat, hopes any unevenness in his heartbeat will be attributed to embarrassment or nerves at being found out, instead of telling a big, blatant, boldfaced lie.

“Yeah, you know. With all the extra monster hunting going on recently I’ve been kind of falling behind on some school stuff, and it turns out Derek’s pretty good with the numbers things.” (Not a lie. Derek’s actually pretty decent with the numbers things, and would’ve gotten better if he hadn’t flipped out and called it quits.) “So he’s been sort of… helping me catch up? Not like he doesn’t owe me for years of research and stuff.”

Derek so owes him. Derek owes Stiles like he wouldn’t believe, not least of which, for having this conversation.

And he hadn’t ever been grateful for any of it.

Scott breaks into a grin, just as Stiles is in danger of slipping into a scowl at the memory.

“That’s pretty awesome, dude.” And then, his eyes going brighter. “Hey, do you think he’d tutor me too?”

It would so serve Derek right to say yes. And watching him fumble through teaching differential equations to Scott would be hilarious.

Derek’s giving Stiles a look that would probably come off as threatening if it weren’t so obviously panicked underneath, and Stiles sighs.

He couldn’t do that to Scott.

“Dude, no stealing my tutor.”

(Derek, he could totally do it to. Puppy rage-eyes notwithstanding. He’s just concerned for his friend’s GPA, is all.)

Scott huffs a disappointed sigh, and Lydia’s sending Derek thoughtful, impressed looks that Stiles is in no way jealous of, and Derek… Derek isn’t even looking at Stiles anymore. Situation resolved, right? No need to thank the guy who’d just thrown himself in front of a bullet for you.

Dick.

.-

“Baumfresser,” Derek says, like that’s even a word. Stiles blinks sleep from his eyes, squinting at the clock on his nightstand, and waffles between jumping on the expected but overdone gesundheit joke or trying for something more clever. He misses his chance when Derek continues: “The things in the woods, you should look into something called baumfresser. They’re not supposed to be real—“

“What, like werewolves?” Stiles cuts in. Because what the hell is Derek doing, calling Stiles in the middle of the night (calling Stiles at all) and not even starting in with an apology or a thank you, or so much as acknowledging the way he’d saved the guy’s ass this afternoon?

And he can totally blame his sleep-muddled brain for thinking this, but yeah, he’s a little bit pissed at being woken up at 2AM by a phone call that isn’t even the slightest bit sexy.

Because there are rules, ok? Phone calls after 2AM should either be life or death, or booty calls. It’s just common decency.

Derek makes an aggravated sound and Stiles flops back on his bed with a grin, arm falling over his eyes. Getting Derek riled does kind of make him feel better. So sue him, ok? It’s a constant in their relationship, and he doesn’t feel bad about it.

“So, baumfresser. Supposedly not real, didn’t come up in our research. What makes you think it’s them?” Derek doesn’t answer, and Stiles wonders if the guy’s drifted off. Wonders if he can get away with drifting off. It’s way too late for research, and Derek’s breaths are nice in his ear. Soothing.

“They’re a fairy tale,” Derek says finally, sounding like he’d rather admit anything but. “My… Laura, my sister, she used to tell me about them. I didn’t mention because…”

“Because it’s a fairy tale,” Stiles says when he trails off. He forces himself up again, blinking sleep from his eyes with earnest, flailing out toward his desk for a notepad and pen. “Like a werewolf boogeyman? So what changed your mind?”

There’s another pause, like Derek’s fighting the urge to contest the ‘werewolf boogeyman’ line, but in the end he lets it go.

“The description fits. Down to that demented laugh.” It comes out tight and Stiles smiles, totally picturing a tiny toddler Derek having nightmares about maniacally giggling miniature troll monsters. “And weeks have gone by without anything else coming up, so I thought—“

“You thought you’d wake Stiles up in the middle of the night on a school night to talk fairy tales. Some of us still need our brains in tip-top shape for learning, you know.” It comes out snide but he doesn’t regret it. Wants to push. 2AM, ok? 2AM and he’s tired, and had just lied to all his friends today about sucking in calculus to save Derek’s ass, and has gotten exactly zero props for it. “What the hell were my notes doing out for Scott to find, anyway?”

He can almost hear Derek’s teeth grinding.

“Do you want the information about the baumfresser or not?”

Stiles settles back onto the mattress, one arm braced behind his head, the other doodling absently in the corners of the notepad.

“Sure, dude. Tell me a bedtime story.”

Stiles.”

“I mean it, I’m listening. In total research mode. Once upon a time there were creepy, giggling troll-gremlins…”

It’s easy to fall into teasing Derek, hearing his frustrated huffs over the line. The way he pauses, obviously considering hanging up, but then doesn’t.

“It’s an old myth. The baumfresser follow packs and power, and trail along in the aftermath of supernatural battles. Like scavengers seeking out carrion.”

“So they’re supernatural hyenas?” He hums thoughtfully. “Well, that explains the giggling.”

Derek pauses again, and Stiles remembers Derek’s tone when he’d described the laughter. Weird, how after everything they’ve all been through, childhood fears can still have an impact.

“More or less. They feed off the energy that supernatural beings project, but are too weak or too scared to face enemies head on. They’re one with the earth, at home in it the way the way wolves are at home under the light of the moon. They live underground, in burrows or caves, and they’re drawn to the power of the ‘world trees.’ Which I didn’t understand when I was a kid, but—”

“The Nemeton,” Stiles cuts in, teeth gritting. Derek’s soft grunt is confirmation enough. “Makes sense. We know a lot of things are supposed to be drawn to the Nemeton. What else have you got on them?”

And maybe, Stiles thinks as Derek launches back into a halting description of his fairy tale monsters, this is his way of thanking Stiles, of apologizing. The fact that he’s trusting him with this theory that he obviously hadn’t voiced to anyone else. It’s kind of nice, actually.

…Though it figures Derek’s way of thanking Stiles would be giving him more research.

.-

“So you and Derek,” Kira says, with feeling. They’re making their way through the trees, and Stiles feels a weird sense of déjà vu, only backwards.

“Me and Derek?”

He’s the only one allowed to corner people into uncomfortable conversations during troll-gremlin hunts, alright? That’s his move, and Kira… Kira’s wearing a grin that’s both knowing and totally inappropriate, because even if she somehow does know that what’s been going on between him and Derek, there would be no cause for that kind of dimpled grin.

His fears are confirmed about two seconds later.

“He’s not actually tutoring you, right? I mean-- you’ve never had any issues with math. You’ve helped almost all of us out more than once.”

Stiles blanches, blinks away fast because… yeah, that had been a pretty weak lie. Numbers make sense to him, are focused and clear. Hell, his math teachers actually like him, even, because it’s hard to lose focus or ramble off topic when he’s solving equations.

Stiles hears a shuffle of movement ahead of them. Finds himself grateful for the distraction, hoping for a baumfresser. They inch forward, Kira drawing her sword as they go.

And end up staring down a startled looking raccoon.

Kira laughs, waves the sword a bit to try and get it to move on. It stares back, decidedly unimpressed. Stiles scowls at it and the force of his glower must seep into its little furry soul, because it picks itself up and shuffles on out of sight.

Victory.

When he looks back up, Kira’s still looking at him expectantly. He shifts his scowl to her, with less effective results.

“Stiles?”

He groans, turning and starting forward again.

“Fine, ok? No, he’s not tutoring me.”

And the squeal he gets in return is totally unnecessary. Derek would not be happy with that squeal. Thank god he’s well out of hearing range because he’d probably be insulted. And he’d probably find a way to blame Stiles.

“I knew it! Scott wasn’t so sure, but I totally knew it.” She pauses, some of the glee draining out of her, and she touches his arm, tugging him gently to look at her again. “But hey… it’s not like you guys have to hide it or anything though.”

Stiles shrugs, hedging.

“So you... know what’s going on?”

Her lips press together, biting down on a smile.

“I mean, it’s not like either of you are exactly super subtle.”

Which… hey. Stiles had thought they’d been doing good. Ready made excuses for why he’d be busy during Derek study times, not bringing anything up around any of the pack. There’d been that whole Scott incident a while back but he’d covered for it pretty… well, not totally terribly.

Apparently it hadn’t been enough, though. He runs a hand through his hair, shrugs.

“I mean, it was Derek’s call to keep it quiet. I think he’s kind of embarrassed, you know?”

Kira looks… kind of devastated at that.

What? Stiles, that’s not ok. You shouldn’t let him make you feel bad about yourself.”

He tilts his head at her. Because, what?

“No, hey. He knows I’m awesome. I think it’s just the situation, you know? Like… I told him it’s no big deal but he’s still all ‘oh, I’m twenty four… I’m too old and’ blah blah blah. Like there’s even that much of a difference, right? He’s not that much older than us.” He shrugs. Kira’s eyes are big and soft again, like she wants to fix this somehow, and Derek’s going to kill Stiles when he finds out she knows. “Hey, it’s ok though. We’re not even doing it anymore. I mean, Derek called it off so—“

“Because of his age?” Kira says softly. Stiles has no idea how a trickster spirit manages to be such a bleeding heart. It’s school stuff; it’s not the end of the world.

“Yeah, I mean that’s part of it. But it’s also like… It’s tough for him getting back into everything after all this time. The math, you know? And—“ he flails an arm around, frustrated, “physics.”

And why the hell is Kira blushing now? Is she embarrassed for Derek? For Stiles not being able to teach him? Whatever, cat’s out of the bag. He keeps barreling forward because it feels good to complain. To let it out like this.

“And I mean, I think the chemistry would be ok because it’s not like that’s new to him or anything, but we didn’t even really get to touch much on that so…” Kira lets out an undignified sound that has him frowning back at her, but before he can really focus on it the ground falls out from under him.

Kira has him before he’s dropped more than six inches, gripping his t-shirt in one fist as his feet dangle over what was definitely supposed to be solid ground. Or solid moss, maybe. Something solid, something not open air. The shirt chokes at him, seams tearing under his weight as she maneuvers him carefully back to solid earth. And then he’s standing again, scrubbing at his throat and staring down at the troll-gremlin sized opening in the forest floor.

“Text the others,” he says, voice coming out rough. “We’ve found our in.”

.-

Stiles takes back every teasing thought he’s had about childhood Derek’s giggle-phobia, ok? You haven’t known terror until you’ve had a foot tall, clay-faced monster sitting on your chest, giggling wildly as its claws caress over your cheekbones.

He was not sorry to see Scott impale that thing in the back.

The plan had started out simple enough, based on one of Derek’s fairy tales. But of course, while stories might hold seeds of truth they’re very rarely the literal truth. The tale Derek remembered had told of a clever wolf who’d lured the baumfresser from their tunnels with the scent of his own blood. Once they’d all come out he had blocked the entrance with a stone, and the tiny critters had been so confused that they’d left town altogether in search of a better home elsewhere.

In reality, while the baumfresser had been lured out by the scent of wolf blood, and had definitely been confused by their hidey-tunnel disappearing, their reaction had been to go into an enraged frenzy rather than trailing demurely out of town.

(Maybe, in retrospect, the pack should’ve high-tailed it out of there instead of standing by, convenient targets, waiting to see what happened.)

Still, Derek had been right about them being scavengers, not fighters. As mad as they were, they’d focused on quick attacks and even quicker retreats, and on the members of the pack least able to fight back. Which was probably awesome for the wolves but less so for Stiles and Mason, who hadn’t attracted much interest from the critters on their earlier patrols, but were apparently prime targets in their frenzied state. Stiles had come armed with this bat and his dad’s taser, and is proud to say he’d given way better than he got, but he is going to have nightmares of those giggles, ok?

Nightmares.

About a third of the creatures were littering the ground before they seemed to decide, en masse, on a solid retreat.

“The territory’s defended.” Derek says afterwards – shrugging off Melissa’s attempts to bandage his wounds with a, mildly martyrish, Stiles thinks, murmur of “Don’t waste the bandages. I’ll be fine.” – “They know that now. They won’t stay.”

Scott had made sure of that too, waving Liam to his side as backup and tracking the baumfresser all the way to the border of Beacon Hills before rejoining the group at the McCalls’.

Stiles’ dad is there too, which had been necessary because he had to know the troll-gremlin threat was finally gone. But is a problem because he’s spent the past half hour switching between fussing over Stiles’ – “minor, Dad, they’re nothing” – scratches, and glaring at him for setting out on a big baumfresser hunt without inviting his dad along.

“So,” he says now, carefully. “They won’t be drawn back to that magic tree?”

Stiles has a theory that his dad avoids using the proper names of things as a kind of protest. If he doesn’t call the magic tree stump in the woods the Nemeton, it doesn’t quite actually exist.

Derek shrugs, the still-open claw marks down his collar stretching with the motion.

“If they come back, we’ll deal with them. But they shouldn’t. Everything I know of them—”

“From bedtime stories,” Stiles cuts in, because come on, that has to be said. Derek levels a slant look in his direction. Off to the side somewhere, Kira tuts softly.

“What I know from my family’s literature,” Derek corrects, lifting his brows at Stiles pointedly. Stiles rolls his eyes and waves him on. “--is that they don’t usually enter an area until it’s been left unclaimed. Maybe they were confused by what happened to my family, or we’ve been too lax in our patrols, but now that they know we’re here and this place is ours, they should go and seek out an unclaimed territory, Nemeton or no.”

His dad’s nodding thoughtfully, a familiar, appraising look in his eyes.

“Your knowledge came in really handy here, Hale.”

Derek shrugs, but his eyes go, barely perceptibly, wider.

“Thank you, sir.” He says it like a goodbye, and actually pushes off the doorway he’s been leaning against like he might swoop into the night here and now. But the Sheriff’s just gearing up; Stiles practically feels him getting ready to make some kind of official offer, and he looks so optimistic about it all that it actually kind of hurts.

Car wreck in slow motion, and Stiles is the only one who sees it coming.

“You know, that kind of knowhow would come in handy down at the—“

Ow,” Stiles says loudly, making everyone jump. His hand flies up vaguely before dropping to his collar, settling lower, on his chest. “You know what? Here I am, breathing like usual, and all of a sudden I get this sort of sharp pain in my chest? Maybe one of those fat little critters broke a rib?”

His dad’s attention is on him in an instant. He’s crossing the room, looking significantly to Melissa, telling Stiles to breathe slowly and describe any pain.

Derek’s looking at him with that same surprised gratitude he’d worn in the loft the day Stiles had lied about being tutored. It’s a nice look, Stiles thinks. He could get used to seeing it.

When he rolls his eyes, barely managing to hide a returning grin (you’re in pain, Stilinski, act like it) he catches sight of Kira watching him with a puzzlingly fond expression.

Something seriously odd is going on with that girl. But hey, that’s a problem for another day. Right now he’s got to convince the adults he’s in significant pain without getting dragged to the hospital for overpriced X-rays.

.-

It turns out it’s a problem for the next day, because the senior pack members are all back at the loft, finishing up their post-post monster check in (no more sign of the things, no sign of fallout from the things, and yes, Stiles’ ribs feel perfectly decent today, thank you for asking again) when Kira threads her elbow through Lydia’s, nudges Scott’s foot significantly, and says “So there’s one more thing I think we should talk about. And it’s not official pack business or anything, but we’re not just pack, we’re all friends, and we want each other to be happy, so…”

Derek looks confused. Stiles’ chest actually starts hurting as his heart crashes into overdrive because if this is going where he thinks it is—

“Hey, no, Kira. I don’t think we need to talk about anything. I think we’re totally good with no one bringing up certain things that might’ve been discussed in private.”

Because there’s no way bringing up the whole tutoring thing will lead to anything good. Derek’s been beyond clear about the fact that he wants no one to know about his whole diploma situation… and honestly it’s kind of a miracle (confusing miracle. Curse? Bizarre, meaningless twist of fate?) that he’d admitted anything to Stiles at all. But the whole pack knowing? Worse, Derek knowing the whole pack knows?

Scott clears his throat, looking strangely formal.

“Stiles. And Derek. Guys, it’s ok. We just… we just want to say it’s ok.”

“And that you shouldn’t feel like you need to hide anything,” Kira adds, much more emphatically. “And you shouldn’t stop either. I mean, you can, obviously, but we don’t think you should? We think it’s a good thing.”

Derek’s gone from confused to tense, eyes flitting across the trio on the couch and back up to Stiles. He looks that same kind of panic-blank he’d always gotten over a low test score, like he wants to bolt or throttle something, or possibly both in tandem.

“Stiles didn’t say anything,” Lydia says, eyes rolling at his expression. “We all pretty much figured it out on our own. And don’t get all panicked; it’s not that big a deal. He’ll be eighteen in like a month, and it’s not like it’s not all a long time coming.”

“We think you’re really good together,” Kira adds, then nudges Scott again. “Right?”

Scott still looks less enthusiastic than the girls (well, less enthusiastic than Kira, at least. Lydia seems only mildly interested in the whole conversation, like it’s a discussion that shouldn’t even need to be happening). But he looks between them both and nods firmly.

“I mean, whatever makes you both happy.”

Derek’s eyes are going from panicked back to puzzled, and Stiles is right there with him because…

“Ok, let’s slow this all down and go back like five steps. What exactly are we all talking about here?”

Scott glances to the girls, and when he meets Stiles’ eyes again the discomfort has finally cleared out, to make way for a much more familiar cheerfulness.

“That you and Derek were dating, Stiles.”

Stiles stares at him. Stares over at Derek. Swallows down a burst of laughter that tries to boil up.

Because… what?

“That’s what’s going on, isn’t it?” Lydia sounds interested, suddenly. When he drags his eyes back from Derek (who looks just plain startled, like a dog that’s been surprise-spritzed with a water bottle) Stiles sees her leaning forward, eyeing them both curiously.

And it’s just all so bizarre. He could maybe see Kira coming up with this idea. She’s kind of a romantic at heart. Of course she would look at a mystery and see a clandestine love story.

But Scott, man. Really? And Lydia? Lydia, who… will realize something’s up in about six seconds if one of them doesn’t say something, and then the whole group will be looking to figure out what had really been going on.

When his eyes go back to Derek he can see the cogs working in the same direction. His brows lift, and Derek’s echo the motion a second later, and they turn back to meet the rest of the group’s gaze.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, a little thick. “Yeah, we were dating.”

.-

The group clears out slowly, pausing to offer hugs and shoulder pats and really well intentioned advice as they go.

“I mean, if it’s just the age thing, that won’t matter much longer.”

“You guys would be so good with each other, though…”

“Dude, it’s not… if it makes you happy…”

“Holy shit,” Stiles says when the door slides closed behind Scott. Derek throws up a hand, head tilting, listening to the progress of the others heading down the stairs. Or maybe he’s just taking a second to process because “holy shit, dude.”

Derek drops his hand, pacing away and tapping his fingers together in a way that makes Stiles think he’s probably testing for accidental claws.

Stiles finally lets his laughter out, and Derek turns to level a disapproving scowl at him.

“This isn’t funny.”

“No man, this is so funny. What are our friends even on, Derek? They think we’re dating.”

“Your friends,” Derek mutters, dropping down to the couch, ducking his head to scrub his hands through it. Stiles snorts, setting off a fresh round of giggles.

“No man I am not claiming that freakshow alone. They’re your delusional, soap-opera happy friends too.”

Because dating Derek? Yeah, he’s thought about getting off with the guy. Sure, it turns out he’s bitingly smart in a way that has led to more than one fantasy about Derek pinning him naked to a bed and growling postmodernist theories into his bared this throat.

(Genius kink, ok? Don’t judge.)

…But dating? His friends ran through all the possible things Stiles and Derek might be hiding, and seriously came up with dating?

He drops down beside Derek.

“And did you even hear them? They want what’s best for us, man. That’s so… I can’t even…”

“They’re not going to let this go, either,” Derek says when he trails off. Then, straightening, eyes going wide: “Lydia talks to Cora.”

“Crap,” Stiles breathes. “Ok, do I have to worry about her showing up and punching me for breaking her poor brother’s heart?”

Derek huffs.

“She’s more likely to yell at me for losing you.” His eyes slide to Stiles. He shrugs. “She thinks I’m too much of a loner.”

Stiles snorts at that.

“Well, she’s not wrong.”

Derek growls a little, teeth baring, and when Stiles laughs again Derek finally breaks, joining in with a quiet chuckle. Stiles sinks back into the soft cushions, trying to picture it. Dating. Like, kisses and anniversaries and fancy dinners and bowling dates and, wow, the image of Derek in neon bowling shoes and a big grumpy frown settles in Stiles’ brain and doesn’t let go.

He wonders what Derek’s picturing. You know things are ridiculous when Derek Hale deigns to chuckle.

“So,” Stiles says, once the laughter dies down. “We’re exes.”

“Thank you” is definitely not the reply he expects. Stiles’ gaze swivels back to him, brow arching. Derek’s frowning at his hands, like there’s a script written there. He continues slow, gratingly, “for going along with… and for everything.”

It seems painful for him to force out, but it sounds sincere. It’s got to be some kind of an honor, earning a thank you from Derek.

Stiles shrugs.

“I’m not gonna out you, dude. And it’s not like it’s the worst thing in the world to be known as Derek Hale’s ex.” He nudges his side, light. “Even if you are a dropout quitter.”

Derek’s jaw twitches, looking up and away like he wants to object, and Stiles tilts his head, going back over that last jibe.

Because out of all the things Derek could be described as – and there are a lot of choice words Stiles could use to describe Derek – quitter wouldn’t be one of them.

“Hey,” he says, slow. “So what were the math notes doing out that day?”

Derek’s silence is the telling kind, the kind that has Stiles’ biting down on a grin, hand lifting to point dramatically.

Dude, you’ve still been studying.”

“Stiles…”

“No man, you totally are. You’re having illicit study times behind my back. You’re cheating on me with my notes.” He’s grinning, and Derek’s brows are crawling higher on his forehead, but no amount of surly skepticism is going to stop Stiles now. “I can’t believe this, Derek, no wonder we didn’t work out. Tell me, are my notes better than me?”

“Your notes are less annoying than you,” Derek grits, and he’s trying so hard not to smile it must hurt. He huffs loudly; a labored, put upon sound. And then, “They’re less helpful.”

Stiles grin fades. They’re in a weird space right now, earnest and sincere. It’s not them at all, and he’s not really sure how to react to it. He considers nudging Derek again, just to break the mood.

What comes out instead, soft, is “I was happy helping you, man.”

Derek shrugs.

“I was trying…” and then trails off, his jaw setting.

“You were…? Give me a vowel, man. You were trying what?”

He lets out a long breath, fixes Stiles with a look like he expects him to just get it. And Stiles thinks back, trying to work through the puzzle of Derek’s wordlessness. Until he thinks maybe he does.

“You were… oh man, when you called me with your fairy tale story, was that you like… reaching back out to me? Were you gearing up to ask me to be your study buddy again, and then lost your nerve?”

Derek’s shoulders twitch.

“I was working up to it.”

And Stiles is biting down a grin because that’s kind of adorable, ok?

(God, what is his brain that he’s calling Derek Hale adorable? Kira’s influence, no doubt. Kira and the whole crazy pack.)

Stiles,” Derek says, with meaning. Sighs. “I’m not good with this. When I mess up, I’m going to get frustrated.”

Stiles’ lips quirk. Because yeah, Derek Hale, with a temper. Who knew?

“Ok, so ground rules. When you get stressed out by the learning, you go out for a run, punch a tree, chase a bunny. No getting mad at me.”

“I was never mad at you,” Derek counters. Stiles rolls his eyes.

“No yelling at me because you’re too emotionally constipated to yell at yourself.” He pauses. “And no yelling at yourself either.”

“You’re talking like we’re doing this again,” Derek notes.

Stiles twists to face him on the couch, watching him carefully.

“It’s up to you, dude. It’s your life.”

“It’s your free time.”

“Which I already said I’m good with spending on this. And hey, resume booster, right? Successfully tutored a sourwolf, that’s gotta get me props somewhere.” Derek scowls. Stiles bites down on a smile. “It’s up to you, Derek. I’ve got the time, I’ve got the interest. I’ve got the awesome notes and knowledge of the fathomless internet that you could only dream of. And,” he shrugs, lips creeping into a grin, “we’ve already got the cover story.”

.-

Kira squeals and hugs him when he announces that he and Derek are back on. Scott claps him on the shoulder, congratulating him earnestly. Lydia waves the announcement off with an “obviously” that’s a little harder to wrap his head around, but she looks up from her phone long enough to grant him a small, fond smile, so he lets it go.

Lydia being fond with him isn’t new at this point, but it’s still enough of a novelty that he pretty much wants to just savor it when it happens.

Derek had argued against using the relationship cover.

“We can just keep quiet about it. They don’t have to know anything’s happening.”

“Right, because that worked out so well last time.”

“Stiles, you know if we’re fake dating you can’t actually date anyone.”

That had almost given him pause, but he’d shrugged it off. It’s not like he’d been dating anyone in all the months when there hadn’t been a fake-boyfriend Derek. And it’s not like anything’s really on the horizon, either. There are two months ‘til the end of senior year, and then he’s off to the Next Great Phase in His Life, (or so the school’s guidance counselor had announced once with a flurry of such excitement Stiles couldn’t decide whether she was living vicariously through him or just that eager to get rid of him).

Anyway, it’s not like there’s much chance of him stumbling into any kind of real relationship before then. If anything, having a fake, several month relationship with Derek will up his street cred. Maybe he’ll demand a picture of Derek to leave around his dorm room next year, just to say he had him. Not like Derek doesn’t owe him at least that much.

Maybe he should ask for a shirtless picture.  Because, hey, he’s giving up his precious single status for Derek’s benefit. He’s allowed to objectify a little.

The weird upside of the whole fake relationship thing is that it’s hilarious when the pack thinks they’re stumbling in on them together. Like when Scott strolls into the loft, sees them sitting on the couch looking over equations, and covers his face, honest to god blushing, shouting that he doesn’t want to see anything. Like… they’re not even touching. There’s a good five inches between them even, what the hell, Scott? At least it keeps Scott from noticing the calculator in Derek’s hand, the red pen (what’s the point of playing teacher, Derek, if I can’t at least get a red pen?) dangling from Stiles’ lip.

The weird downside is that the pack actually expects them to be coupley now. When Derek stops by Scott’s house one afternoon to drop off some kind of How to Alpha manual (ok, a record from Satomi on local pack treaties of the last decade) Scott pauses their video game, gives Stiles a sideways look and asks “Aren’t you gonna say hey to Derek?” Stiles, who’d already offered a “hey Derek” when he’d come in, frowns in confusion until Derek lets out a soft, frustrated sound, leans over the back of the couch, and presses his lips to Stiles’ cheek.

The “hey” he murmurs against Stiles’ ear is all rumbling breath and soft edge of beard, and Scott is groaning good-naturedly like he hadn’t basically just egged Derek on. And Stiles just sits there, stone still and flushing, because whoa, hey, since when does Derek get all up close and beardy with anyone? That’s unexpected, ok, and Stiles hadn’t had a chance to prepare for it.

Derek’s totally being a jerk about it too, his eyes dancing when he pulls back, at the sight of Stiles’ creeping flush.

But Stiles doesn’t back down from challenges.

Before Derek gets far, Stiles is twisting to kneel up on the couch, catching hold of him by the nape, and leaning forward. For a second it’s like punching Derek with his mouth - a swooping attack that slams home too hard, teeth bruising indents into his gums. But then he eases back just a bit and all at once it’s good. All warm lips and stubble, and Derek’s breath huffing out sharp with surprise. Stiles grins against his mouth because he’s totally won this round, and rewards himself by trailing a hand along that fucking sculpted jaw. Because when is he ever gonna have this opportunity again?

Derek doesn’t move back, because of course he doesn’t. How would that look? His hand curls against Stiles’ shirt, just above his heart, and it probably looks sweet as hell from the outside. Scott probably thinks the spike in Stiles’ heartbeat is just from their pressed together mouths and not the way Derek’s fingers have gone just slightly sharp in warning.

Cause he’s a dick like that.

Not like Stiles isn’t, though. He opens his mouth, nips rough at Derek’s lip.

When he finally pulls back, Stiles is every inch the apologetic boyfriend.

“Sorry, babe.” Derek’s eyes twitches. “Just got caught up in the game, you know?”

Derek smiles back, but there’s a glint in his eye and an almost feral gleam to his teeth, and the overall effect kind of leaves Stiles wanting to back away slow, kind of leaves him with the shivery urge to spread his legs and let Derek do what he wants with him. Over two years of knowing the guy, and Stiles has never seen him fall so snugly into the role of the big bad wolf.

He shouldn’t be at all surprised, then, when Derek twists the string of Stiles’ hoodie around his finger, tugging him slowly closer, and murmurs:

“It’s ok, Little Red. I know how much you like games.”

Stiles’ jaw drops while Scott, from the other side of the couch, gags audibly. “Oh, ew.”

Little red???

Derek’s barely out the door before Stiles excuses himself to the bathroom. His phone out, fingers jabbing at the keys, red-faced and choking between amusement and outright horror.

I can’t seriously believe you did that

Kind of impressed, didn’t know you had that in you

Scott keeps giving me LOOKS now

This means war, you know.

So maybe that’s not really that bad-weird either, because apparently neither of them can resist rising to a challenge, and it’s kind of awesome to try and one up Derek in the relationship game. Twisting jibes into endearments so only Derek knows the difference, playing chicken with touches until Stiles is almost eager to walk into a room and see Derek there, just to see how he’ll react to Stiles dropping casually onto his lap, or adding tongue to their next kiss.

(Derek responds by kissing back harder, dirtier, until his hand is halfway up Stiles’ shirt and Stiles is clutching his hair, choking down little, desperate noises. Scott has to break them up with a “guys, please do that later” and when they break away Derek’s as flushed and breathless as Stiles feels, so he counts that as a draw.)

And, added bonus, fake dating has given Stiles the ultimate weapon against stressed out Derek. Whenever the guy starts to get too tense over a new set of formulas, Stiles’ offers of soothing massages or puckered lips for his “boo” have Derek snorting so hard he forgets what he was freaked about.

It’s like a superpower. A fake boyfriend superpower.

And so what if he actually likes getting that tension to ease out of Derek’s shoulders? So what if he enjoys that playful glint in Derek’s eyes, watching him biting down on laughs he can’t let out in front of the others? Stiles is awesome, and he likes sharing that awesomeness with others. It’s not like he’s really had much opportunity to do the whole “spoiling a significant other” thing. So if he gets some sincere enjoyment out of noting Derek’s favorite candy and bringing it along to the loft, or buying him that five dollar wolf plushie (it’s black with blue eyes, too damn perfect to pass up) who could blame him?

It gets weird during the next pack bonding night, which is at the loft as per usual. The pack has insisted on instituting movie nights so determinedly that Derek had finally given in and bought a TV, acting entirely put upon the whole time, like they were hugely inconveniencing him and not bringing a whole new level of awesomeness into his home. Some day they’ll actually get him to invest in cable, or maybe Netflix.

He’s a work in progress.

Anyway, it’s movie night and Stiles and Derek have distracted themselves for too long in the kitchen, caught up in the sort of reverse-studying they’ve started doing in front of others, just because it’s so damn easy to pull off without anyone lifting a brow.

“So,” Derek says, contemplating their pizza choices. “If you don’t know the velocity of the second train…”

“Speed,” Stiles corrects. “Because you know the direction. And if you know how fast the other train’s going, and the distance between them, and now long it takes before they collide in a fiery explosion—“

“I don’t think that’s what the problem’s implying,” Derek intones, and Stiles waves him off.

“—then you know how much distance train B has covered in the same amount of time, and it’s your basic distance over time equals velocity formula.”

“Speed,” Derek corrects, smiling innocently. Stiles rolls his eyes.

Guys,” Scott calls from the main room. “Is helping Stiles study like, foreplay to you? Because if so can you please not? We want to start the movie.”

When they make it to the main room, though, they find that the couch and all of the floor space in front of it has been claimed by the rest of the pack.

Mason, from his spot on the floor, nods toward the left with lifted brows.

“There’s not a lot of furniture here. We figured you two would be ok on the bed?”

Stiles’ next breath goes in sharp; he chokes on a cough that leaves his ears ringing. Derek’s gone tense at his side.

“What?”

I think it’s weird,” Scott announces, because he’s a bro. But then he shrugs. “But I mean, they’re right. We figured Derek wouldn’t really be happy with anyone else’s scent all over his bed so.”

Which is how Stiles and Derek end up perched at the edge of Derek’s (wow, ok, super comfortable) bed for about two hours, enduring jokes about how stiff they look (“and not even in the fun way” from Liam. Mason chokes on his coke, laughing) and how it’s nice they’re not taking the opportunity to do any funny business, “but you could still touch, guys, no one’s gonna judge you for snuggling a little.”

They don’t snuggle.

Stiles amuses himself by walking the plushie wolf across the mattress and up Derek’s thigh. Derek amuses himself by sending the wolf skeptical looks and clenching his fists into the comforter like he’d give anything to tear the thing apart or toss it straight out the window.

He leaves it on top of Derek’s bookshelf at the end of the night, and when he comes back to study a few days later it’s still there, and there’s a new oversized chair sitting next to the couch in front of the TV. Stiles arches a brow, snorting.

“You know they’re just gonna make us snuggle on that next time instead.”

.-

Stiles’ eighteenth birthday comes and goes with the usual amount of fanfare -- an attempted birthday party interrupted by a supernatural disaster, when a passing Alpha sees their less traditional pack as an insult to werewolf society, and decides to ‘whip them into shape.’

Whatever the hell that means.

It all comes down to a showdown behind Lydia’s lake house backed by some pretty epic dubstep, a couple of crushed presents, a couple dozen crushed bones (none of them Stiles’, luckily), and a cover story about a LARP battle that leaves the other partygoers pretty firmly divided on whether Stiles is an even more hopeless case than they’d realized, or pretty much the most awesome person ever.

Overall, Stiles is pleased with that outcome.

He’s less pleased by Derek, who obviously had to play werewolf body shield, and ends up in Deaton’s clinic recovering from slow-healing Alpha wounds. Which means Stiles has to play the doting boyfriend or face the scorn of his friends forever, and spends the night of his eighteenth birthday huddled in an uncomfortable chair, watching him heal.

Scott pauses on his way home (where he’ll get to sleep in his comfortable bed) and offers a sympathetic smile.

“Sorry man, this probably isn’t how you two wanted to spend the night.” Stiles arches his brow because obviously, and Scott adds, “I mean, you guys have been waiting ‘til you turned eighteen, right?” and Stiles almost hacks up a lung choking on a laugh.

Dude, no. What?” He glances wildly to the unconscious Derek, then back. “I swear to god, Scott, if you start talking about smells--”

Scott lifts a hand, grimacing.

“No, dude. It’s not that, it’s just... you haven’t told me you guys did it, and I figured… if you did you’d probably tell me.”

The look he shoots Stiles is questioning in a way that kind of makes Stiles’ heart hurt, because maybe it’s not his secret to tell, but he’s never really lied like this to Scott before. Not about anything big. Guilt hits him, unexpected, and has him nodding earnestly.

“Yeah, Scott, I’d tell you.”

Scott smiles back.

“Ok, cool. I mean, not like I need details--”

“Hey, I got way more details than I ever needed about all your girlfriend exploits.”

Scott frowns.

“You said you wanted to live vicariously through me.”

“Yeah, but like, I didn’t need to hear much Allison loved your--”

Derek’s fingers twitch where they’re threaded through Stiles’, well timed enough that he must be at least half-conscious, awake enough to realize he doesn’t want to hear the end of that sentence.

His face is still too pale, eyes closed, hair plastered to his forehead with some mixture of sweat and lake water. ‘Cause of top of everything else, the guy had obviously gotten himself thrown into the lake too. Stiles lifts a hand, pushes the hair absently back.

When Stiles looks away he finds Scott watching him with a soft, fond look.

“We’ve just been kind of surprised. You’ve never really seemed like that ‘take it slow’ kind of a guy, you know? But Kira said Derek was worried about the age thing, so.”

So the pack has been thinking any awkwardness or slip-ups in the PDA department were because they were holding back. Because Stiles wasn’t technically California legal before now. (And holy shit, Stiles hadn’t even actually thought about the fact that he’s California legal now. Not that it matters because, you know, fake boyfriends, but hey. It’s definitely something to factor into his fantasy fodder.)

But that also means the pack expects them to start acting differently now. Start being more physical, maybe, or maybe go out on actual dates or something, now that Derek wouldn’t be arrested for it.

That old image of Derek in bowling shoes rises up again: neon pink and yellow.

He clears his throat over a chuckle, feels Derek’s fingers twitch and loosen marginally in his own.

“Nah man, I mean. The underage thing was a factor, but you know, it’s not like my dad’s going to suddenly be thrilled about the idea of me dating a twenty-four year old.”

Scott’s head falls sideways, a doubtful look on his face.

“Dude, your dad loves Derek.”

“Yeah, and we want to keep it that way.” The last thing he’d want, after all this effort, is to have his dad hating Derek and rescinding the deputy offer altogether. Or worse, his dad loving the idea and never getting off Stiles’ case once this all comes to its inevitable end. He definitely doesn’t need another person pulling for them, telling them just how great they are together. “So yeah, we want to keep everything on the casual side. And quiet.” Quiet is key. “At least til I graduate.”

At least until Derek doesn’t need his tutoring anymore, and they can amicably dissolve their “relationship.”

.-

It’s a warm afternoon in late April and Stiles is standing in the public library, in front of a shelf of GED study books. He’s only half an aisle away from AP prep, but somehow he’s totally unprepared for sudden the gleam of strawberry blonde hair as Lydia sweeps around the corner.

She’s clearly deep in study mode, hair pulled back into a messy bun with a pen in a way that somehow still manages to scream high fashion. Her eyes narrow when she catches sight of him.

“Stilinski, I swear to god, if you’ve got the AP Lit book… why this library thinks one copy is acceptable for an entire graduating class…”

She pauses, brows arching slowly as she really takes in where he’s standing, and the science study book gripped guiltily in one hand.

He’s Stiles Stilinski though, he can dodge his way out of this.

“Hi Lyds. So hey, I was just thinking, these GED things focus on all the information the world thinks people need to know to graduate high school, right? So this might actually be an untapped source of finals study material that no one ever bothers to utilize. Since, you know, the AP books are usually all gone at this point.”

Lydia’s perfectly sculpted brow lowers slowly.

“That’s a sideways thought train, Stiles, even for you.”

That’s ok though, he’s already got a niche carved out in the realm of weird ideas. What’s one more to add to the list, right? So he shrugs, steps aside to let her pass, and somehow manages to forget, just for a second, that while he might be Stiles Stilinski, he’s dealing with Lydia Martin.

She stops right in front of him, trails a manicured finger along the book’s cover, and meets his eyes in a knowing gaze.

“It’s sweet of you to help your boyfriend out like this. Just don’t let it interfere with your grades. When I get valedictorian I don’t want any excuses about you being distracted.”

She smiles then, disconcertingly bright, and continues on down the row, snatching the AP Lit book and disappearing out the other end before Stiles can think to offer a token denial.

.-

Two days later, Stiles finds a set of comprehensive, easy to follow notes going over basic physics equations and concepts. They’re typed up and printed, not a hint of handwriting to acknowledge where they’d come from. Stiles is willing to bet they'd been handled with gloves too, so wolfy noses wouldn't be able to pick up anyone's scent on them but Stiles'.

Lydia returns Stiles’ heartfelt THANK YOU text with a for what, Stiles? that leaves him grinning all the way to Derek’s.

Sometimes he’s honestly not sure how he’d managed to fall out of love with that girl, but he’s glad he did. He doesn’t think he would have managed to have such an amazing friend, otherwise.

.-

He doesn’t really think about Lydia’s warning, though, until April bleeds into May and suddenly deadlines are looming for papers, last assignments, and his own set of tests. His finals. His final tests as a high school student. Kind of amazing how, after everything he’s been through in the past couple of years, something like that can still send nervous thrills through him.

It’s well after eleven PM on a Thursday, and Stiles is hyped up on too much Red Bull, eyes sore from staring between a Word document and his book sources without break since dinner, and he’s decidedly rethinking his usual “I churn out my best product at the last minute” stratagem, when a tap at his window sends him flailing.

His paperback hits the window and falls to reveal a bemused looking Derek, dimly lit in the moonlight.

Fuck, dude,” he hisses, scrambling to his feet and shoving the window open. “Heard of a front door?”

He steps back and Derek ducks through the window, dropping soundlessly to the floor.

“You want me knocking on your door at nearly midnight?”

Which, good point. His dad’s home tonight, already in bed, and probably wouldn’t appreciate the wake up call.

“Ever heard of a phone, then?”

“You haven’t been answering,” Derek says, crossing the room and grabbing Stiles’ phone like he’s just entitled to get all up and personal with Stiles’ private property. When he activates the screen there are notifications for missed calls and messages that Stiles definitely hadn’t heard an alert for.

Because he’d silenced his phone after school to focus, like a responsible student in a last minute homework panic, right.

“I shouldn’t have come by. I just wanted to check…”

“That I haven’t been devoured by some new creature of the night in the past twenty four hours?” He smirks, until remembers how likely that is in their lives. That’s probably exactly what Derek’s brain had jumped to. “No, sorry man. Just got distracted by…” he waves vaguely toward his computer, and to the lit book splayed out pitifully on the floor under his window. “Sorry I didn’t check.”

Derek’s looking over the desk now, at the Red Bull cans and the mess of scribbled notes, at the eight page word doc with the last sentence still hanging, unfinished.

“You’re still doing homework?”

Stiles grimaces, rubbing at his eyes. If he needs to get glasses after this, would he be able to sue the school?

“Just the conclusion and proofing. Make sure I’m even on the same topic I started with. I don’t really remember at this point.”

Derek hums softly, then drops himself right down at Stiles’ chair, scrolling up in the document.

Stiles squawks, indignant, but Derek just waves him off.

“Go rest your eyes.”

“What, and you’ll finish it for me? It’s due tomorrow, dude.”

Derek has reached the first page, eyes scanning over the first paragraph.

“No, I’m going to read it out loud to you, so you can hear if it all makes sense. Go lie down, close your eyes.”

Stiles blinks at him, drowsy brain moving slow.

“I’ve had wet dreams that started like this.”

A thick brow arches, skeptical.

“With me reading your essays to you?”

“You mock, Judgy Brows, but every writer dreams of some stupidly attractive person reading their own work to them.”

Derek’s brows have both gone furrowed now, his gaze flicking all over Stiles for what feels like way too many seconds. He looks poised to make about five different comments, but then he just turns back toward the screen.

“Go lie down, Stiles.”

He can’t think of a reason to say no.

.-

It turns out Derek’s voice is kind of perfect to listen to for long periods, low enough to be soothing, interesting enough to keep Stiles engaged in the material. He can see the threads he’d been building as he goes, catches onto them and ties them together, and by the time Derek gets to the end Stiles is on his feet, shooing him out of the way to rattle off a killer conclusion that’s already fully formed in his head.

When he finishes and finally snaps out of the focused haze of essay writing, he finds Derek perched against his windowsill, watching with a curiously soft expression.

“Good?”

Stiles finds himself grinning back.

“Yeah, that was… Thanks.”

Derek shrugs, not rebuffing the gratitude but not really accepting it either. Then he says, “I scheduled the tests.”

It’s late, and Stiles’ brain is pretty much mush at this point, and it takes way too long for him to really wrap his head around that.

“You… what, really?”

Derek has been absorbing the science kind of insanely well lately, in large part thanks to Lydia’s help (chemistry and biology packets had followed shortly after the physics one, in much the same manner as the first), and Stiles had actually caught him browsing through the GED testing service website all on his own, looking like he was debating setting some test dates.

He hadn’t really expected Derek to take that last jump on his own, though. Hadn’t known that he’d felt ready to.

Stiles realizes he hasn’t reacted yet, forces a smile to numb feeling lips.

“That’s what you were calling about.”

Derek’s eyes are on him like a physical presence; he nods, slow.

He opens his mouth to say something upbeat or encouraging.

“When?” slips out instead.

“Two weeks.”

So just two weeks left of… whatever this is. And then, if Derek passes, there will be no more reason for late night hangouts or impromptu loft visits. Actually they’d probably be frowned upon since, to the rest of the group, they’d be exes all over again.

Stiles remembers when that thought was hilarious.

“That’s awesome, dude,” he says, overbright in the room’s stillness.

Derek doesn’t call him out on the lie.

.-

It turns out that “two weeks” lines up almost exactly with prom. So it’s probably understandable that the group’s sudden obsession with lunchtime prom talk would leave Stiles feeling anxious. He wonders if this is what his teachers feel like when finals looms closer. Remembers Finstock closing out classes with “and go study. If you fail, I have to deal with you for another year” and thinks probably not.

Although, if Derek fails they’d have to keep their act going through the summer. And that’s not actually a terrible thought.

He doesn’t notice he’s projecting anything until Kira says his name.

“Sorry, Stiles. This must be hard for you.”

He looks up from his half-eaten probably-pasta mixture.

“Huh, what?”

She’s smiling at him, a sad, supportive look in her eyes.

“We keep talking about prom and dates and stuff, but you don’t get to bring Derek. I think it’s a really unfair rule that guests have to be under twenty-one, especially when most of us are eighteen anyway.”

Her hopeful eyes go to Lydia, who waggles her forkful of salad thoughtfully.

“As much as I’d love to see Derek Hale in a tux, I don’t think student prom director has that kind of authority.”

“I don’t think Derek’s really the prom type anyway,” Stiles cuts in, because Kira looks like she’s gearing up to lodge some kind of a formal complaint, or maybe go ask her father for help. And he can’t exactly say that Derek needs to spend the night studying and getting a good night’s rest anyway.

He can’t exactly think about the fact that he’d rather be there with Derek than dancing.

.-

Prom is awesome.

Of course it is; it’s a Lydia party. Decorations that hit the right edge of romantic without falling into the kind of formal that no high school student would feel comfortable dancing under. There’s no live band (Lydia had outright scoffed when Stiles suggested it. “People don’t actually want live bands, Stiles. They want to dance to the music they know and love”) but the DJ’s great, and Stiles loses himself for a while in the beat of the music and his friends all around him.

He and Lydia end up going together - Lyda had shrugged as she’d suggested it, offering a vague, “I can’t take who I want to go with either” - and Stiles gets halfway through the night before realizing that his sophomore self would be through the roof at the idea of being at prom with Lydia Martin.

He keeps pausing every few songs to check his phone.

It’s the night before Derek’s test, their last night as a couple.

A fake couple. Nothing’s really changing.

He’s not sure why that thought feels so much like a lie.

He’s sitting at a round table at the edge of the dance floor, trying to figure out how to check in without sounding like he’s checking in, when Lydia says “Oh for god’s sake, just go see him.”

And he wants to. He really does. He’s here at senior prom with all his friends, on the arm of the most beautiful, capable, intelligent woman he’s ever known, and he can’t drag his brain away from Derek Hale.

“I think,” he says, slow, “I’m really into Derek.”

It’s a ridiculous comment on the face of it. There’s no way to explain it to Lydia, who thinks they’ve been crazy about each other since January.

But she just nods, thoughtful.

“I think you are too.”

She doesn’t get it though, she can’t get just how weird that is. This was supposed to be a cover story, maybe a little bit fun. But now it’s going to be over the second Derek gets back from his test and all Stiles wants is to cuddle next to him on that stupid oversized armchair and correct him on science formulas, and buy him cheesy presents that make him roll his eyes but he ends up keeping anyway.

His chest feels too full and too tight and he’s not sure how he’s managed to fall for his own lie like this.

But he isn’t ready to let this go.

Lydia’s sliding the phone out of his hand, clasping her own in it instead, and he’s not sure how but he finds himself saying: ”Derek and I… we’re not exactly like everyone thinks.”

It’s more than he’d ever planned to admit, but Lydia just smiles.

“Stiles, relationships are never exactly what everyone else thinks.”

He grits his teeth, eyes sliding. Hears her sigh.

“Look, when I was with Jackson, I spent a lot of time convincing myself I didn’t really care about him. We made sense, socially speaking, and he was attractive. But we had a lot of problems too, and we both went out of our way to sabotage things more than once. We were a couple for ages before I realized how much I actually cared about him.”

Stiles squeezes her fingers, aiming a small smile her way.

“Do we really have to talk about Jackson Whittemore during my prom?”

Lydia laughs. Slides her hand gently free, and stands up.

“I think you’ll find it’s my prom, and you’re spoiling the decor with your moping. Get out of here, see your boyfriend, and figure out what you really want.”

.-

Derek pulls the door open with a confused “Stiles, what--” that dies off fast at the sight of him. His eyes flit along Stiles’ face, down his charcoal vest and black shirt before skittering back up. Stiles had ditched the tie and jacket in the car, and the flutter Stiles gets as Derek’s eyes linger along his collar makes him feel reckless and brave. He steps around Derek, into the loft.

“Lydia insisted I see my boyfriend on prom night.”

Derek looks tired; the coffee table’s a mess of what looks like every note Stiles had ever given him. He’s dressed for bed, though, in loose grey sweats and a tank top, and his hair is damp and tousled like he’d recently gotten out of a shower.

“That makes sense,” Derek says, soft. Stiles licks his lips, pacing back a step, and then forward again.

“I almost texted you about twenty times.”

“It was that boring?”

“Total disappointment. Not even a live band, you know?” Derek hums, thoughtful. He’d never been to prom, Stiles remembers. Such a small, stupid thing in comparison to everything else the fire had taken, but it twists, sharp and bitter, in his gut. “I just kept thinking about, you know, whether you were keeping on top of things, or had questions or…”

“Stiles, this is a big night for you. Don’t worry about me.”

Martyr, Stiles thinks, and the word comes out frustratingly fond in his head. He inches forward another step.

“That’s what boyfriends do, right? I figure if it’s my last night as yours, I might as well be a good one.”

Derek isn’t flinching back. Isn’t glaring or scoffing. He looks… confused, definitely, searching in a way that seems to sear right past Stiles’ skin and straight into the core of him.

Stiles drags in a breath, leans in slow, and presses their lips together.

It’s not new, kissing Derek. But this is definitely different. There’s no audience right now, nothing to excuse Stiles’ behavior. He expects Derek to push him away, shivers at the soft, startled sound that drags up the other man’s throat instead. When Stiles pulls back, Derek’s eyes are blown wide and dark. Tentative in a way he’d never been while they were acting.

“For luck,” Stiles offers. Derek licks his lips, eyes fixed on Stiles’, and nods slowly.

Overall, Stiles thinks prom night goes pretty well.

.-

They don’t actually break up after Derek gets back from his test. That makes sense, Stiles figures, practical. Since the results probably won’t be in for a couple of weeks. If Derek doesn’t pass they’ll have to keep the act going anyway.

They don’t go back to their old routine either though, fake kisses feeling wrong now that Stiles has put it out there for real. Stiles isn’t sure what Derek wants, isn’t sure Derek is sure what Derek wants, and can’t even think about having some big talk about feelings anyway because he’s too caught up in his own finals and graduation prep. The upside is that the rest of the pack is too busy to notice anything’s up anyway.

Derek drops by Stiles’ house a few times to help him study, but Stiles can’t decide whether it’s habit, some attempt at repayment, or something else altogether that inspires the visits. They don’t mention the prom night kiss, but Stiles catches Derek looking at him once in a while like he’s a puzzle Derek’s trying to work out.

Graduation itself passes in a blur of speeches and hugs and his dad actually tearing up, and one single shining moment where his name is called up and he walks across that stage, and is handed the paper signifying he’ll never have to set foot here again.

They’re gathered in Kira’s backyard for the joint pack graduation party, while debating the relative merits of giving each other graduation gifts. (Read: Stiles hadn’t gotten anyone any.)

“I mean, if I gave you all fifty bucks, you’d just have to give me fifty bucks back, so we might as well not and say we did, right?”

Scott’s nodding, thoughtful, while Lydia rolls her eyes.

“It’s the principle, Stilinski.”

“So if your card right here has fifty bucks in it, and I hand it back to you, that goes against the principle?”

“Does that mean we get out of giving you something too?” Liam asks, and Stiles swivels to face him, hand going up.

You guys didn’t graduate. Fork over the cash.”

“But then you’ll just have to pay us back next year,” Mason notes. “Might as well not.”

He knows Derek’s behind him before the guy even speaks, and wonders when they’d gotten close enough for him to have developed a Derek-radar.

Probably around the same time he’d fallen for the guy for real, huh?

“And what are the rules for boyfriends?”

He’s in full on boyfriend-for-show mode, but Stiles can’t help the way his heart flutters at the word falling from Derek’s lips. He’s in so deep it’s ridiculous.

He tilts his head back toward Derek, forces a familiar, faux-flirty grin that feels too real these days.

“The boyfriend gift requirement can be paid in the form of kisses.”

The way Derek’s eyes lock onto his mouth leaves him feeling hot all over. He stomps down on the feeling, because Derek’s still just acting. Even when he runs a thumb up Stiles’ arm, when he slides his eyes up to catch Stiles’ pointedly, when he murmurs “Let’s find some place private then” in a way that has Scott and Liam groaning.

This is the same kind of thing they’ve done a hundred times. Just because his heart’s decided to feel differently about it all of a sudden, that doesn't actually mean anything's changed.

An idea that’s confirmed when Derek leads him out past the party tent, past the speakers sounding out a constant thrum of music, and immediately steps away, taking several quick steps from Stiles and raking a hand through his hair.

“You’re really good at that,” Stiles says, before he can really think not to. “The whole faking it thing. You ever think of going into acting? Becoming a spy? If you ever do become a cop there are people who specialize in undercover work--”

Stiles,” Derek says, and he cuts off. Derek’s turned back to look at him. His shoulders are drawn tight; he looks even more tense than usual, which is saying something. He lets out a slow breath. “You’re good at it too.”

“I’ve got help, though.” Help like being ridiculously attracted to Derek from the get go. Help like falling for his brains too, and his snark, and his everything, probably, right down to his stupid martyr complex.

He doesn’t feel particularly exposed, admitting it like this. The kiss on prom night had pretty much said as much already.

Derek’s eyes slide away, and then back. Hover somewhere around Stiles’ shoulder, and Stiles braces himself for rejection.

“I passed.”

That’s so far from what he expected that he doesn’t even know how to process it.

“You…”

“Scores came in. I passed.” Derek’s lips quirk. “With honors.”

“Holy shit.” With everything going through his head lately, Stiles had expected to have mixed feelings about this. But right now, hearing it, seeing the little edge of a pleased smile twitching its way across Derek’s lips, he can’t feel anything but proud of him. “Derek, you graduated. Holy... Ok, you’re getting a hug, dude. No choice here. Hugs are kind of mandatory at graduations. Trust me, I’ve recently become an expert.”

Derek looks down, like that’ll hide his smile.

“Technically it’s just a certificate.”

A laugh startles out of Stiles.

“Oh my god, shut up.”

Derek finally looks up, and rolls his eyes, all outward exasperation. But after a few seconds he inclines his head in a quick “come on, then” gesture.

Stiles is against him a second later, sliding his arms under Derek’s to clasp him firm around the middle. Derek tenses for a second at the contact, and Stiles realizes that in all the times they’d turned touching into a game - quick kisses and longer, dirtier ones, hands clasping on napes and that one, memorable instance of Stiles dropping himself straight into Derek’s lap - they’d never just done this, just hugged.

And then strong arms are lifting and wrapping around Stiles’ shoulders, one big hand gripping his nape, and holy crap Derek is actually hugging him back. Stiles had pretty much expected him to just suffer the attention in tortured silence for a few seconds and then pull away, but here he is, hugging Stiles like he wants to be touching him, like he’s happy he’s with him… and even with everything else happening today, this somehow feels like the highlight.

“You graduated,” Stiles repeats, and Derek huffs against his ear. He doesn’t let go, though, and Stiles buries his grin against Derek’s shoulder.

“Stiles,” Derek says after a few seconds, slow and stilted. “I couldn’t have done it without--”

“You could have.”

Derek’s quiet for a few seconds.

“I wouldn’t have.’’

Stiles flicks his shoulder blade, snorts.

“Now that’s a compliment I’ll take. Annoying you ‘til you got off your lazy wolf ass and started studying.”

They’ve probably… definitely, been standing like this too long. But when Derek finally shifts it’s in, not away. And then their fronts are pressed together all over, and Derek’s fingers are moving to trail along Stiles’ nape in a way that definitely goes beyond gratitude.

And Stiles has been thinking about this a lot lately. Like, whenever his brain isn’t on schoolwork it’s been picturing moments like this. But he’d imagined shouting confessions and fast, desperate kissing. He’d pictured it like a battle, maybe because it had felt like such a battle to get here… and he’s shocked to realize how comfortable it all feels. Part of him is afraid that might actually be the worst thing ever -- the same part of him that had been carried through his bisexual awakening to confusing-hot images of being shoved into walls, of glowing eyes and gleaming teeth flashing at him out of the darkness. The idea of him and Derek going into this comfortable?

But then Derek’s head shifts and his beard scrapes soft against Stiles’ cheek, and he’s breathing “I… can I--” and Stiles realizes there’s nothing boring about this kind of comfortable. This comfort comes from knowing what he wants, from trust. Comfortable is what gives him the courage to grip Derek’s shoulders, pull back just enough to meet his gaze, and breathe “Yeah, god yeah” and meet Derek halfway in a grinning, giddy, real kiss.

.-

The sun has started to go low.

Derek’s backed against a tree, Stiles pulled close against him. Strong, warm hands clutching Stiles' hips, playing along the hem of his shirt.

"Describing the exam process really does it for you?"

Stiles lifts his head, frowns at the skeptical tone.

"If you do it sexy. No judging my kinks, dude."

Derek sighs, but it's a sigh of defeat, and Stiles goes back to amusing himself by sucking bruises into Derek’s neck and watching the marks fade.

"Well they had an excerpt from--"

Guys, really?" Scott's voice has them both jumping, Stiles flailing back until Derek catches his arm. "You’ve been out here for like half an hour.”

And Scott is Stiles’ best bro, and bros tell each other about these kinds of things, so Stiles doesn’t even think before grinning his way, announcing “Derek and I are dating, Scott!” and holding his fist to bump.

He can practically hear Derek’s eyes rolling, but screw him. Stiles has a boyfriend, an awesome, hot, brilliant boyfriend, who he’d just spent half an hour making out with, wow. He gets to be psyched about it.

Scott sends him an amused look, bumping the fist and smiling.

“Yeah, man. You are.”

“Awesome, right?” He smiles at Scott’s bemused face for a few more seconds before a thought occurs to him. His gaze shoots back to Derek. “I mean, I am, aren't I?”

Derek has that look he sometimes gets, where he seems to be questioning all his life’s choices. But he threads their fingers pointedly together, and nods.

Stiles goes back to grinning, leans in for another quick kiss.

Awesome.

Stiles doesn’t even think to unlace their fingers as they walk back to the main party, too busy savoring the fact that they’re actually real now to remember that there are people who hadn’t known about them being fake-real before.

Until his dad is in front of them, clearing his throat and looking pointedly at their clasped hands.

Right. So.

“Sheriff,” Derek says, and his dad inclines his head slightly.

“Hale.”

There's a tense pause and then...

“Any chance the department’s still looking for a new deputy?”

Stiles snorts. His dad’s brows startle up, gaze flitting to Stiles and back, and then he spends about two seconds seeming to decide whether to force himself into the role of the intimidating father figure. In the end he just nods, gruff, like that’ll hide the fond glint in his eye.

“I think we could find a place for you.”