Stiles wouldn't say that he spends a lot of time blaming himself. Just some of the time. Just when everything is too quiet. When he's alone. When he has a moment to stop and think about how his excitement to go looking for half of a dead girl's body in the woods one night is what started all of this.
Well, that's not entirely true. There were Argents on the field, fouling up the play long before him. But guilt isn't exactly a rational emotion to begin with, and it's hard to fight off, no matter what else happens.
He knows Derek understands that, at least. Even post-kanima, when he stops feeling like his head is going to explode, when they finally find their way to something resembling a functional pack, Stiles keeps waiting for the bottom to drop out.
Second verse, same as the first, and all that crap.
At least it's them, he reasons. Because honestly, sometimes the most terrifying thing he can think of is that it might not have been them. Peter could have turned someone else instead of Scott. And then where would they be? Clueless and defenseless and... hell, Derek would probably even be dead, killed by Kate Argent's bullet with no one to retrieve the wolfsbane in order to cure him.
That thought churns his stomach and he dismisses it. Because it was them, and they're together, and as ridiculous as that sentiment is, it's true and it gets them all the way up to senior year's door. Which, hell, Stiles'll count that as a win, even if he won't say it out loud.
“Tell the truth,” Allison says, bright grin on her face. “You never thought we’d make it to senior year alive.”
Scott’s got his arm around her waist and hers are looped possessively around his shoulders. Stiles is happy for them, happy they made it this far, and if Stiles were going to put money on it, he’d never bet against them making it work in the long run. They’re just… one of those couples.
He shrugs, sitting on the hood of his Jeep with his knees pulled up, his own smile pulling at the corner of his mouth. He fidgets, tapping a foot. “We haven’t even graduated yet. Don’t jinx us.”
Scott rolls his eyes, and Allison lets out a peel of laughter. He likes seeing them so happy, after everything.
“I don’t think we qualify for jinxes,” says Scott. “Our whole life is a jinx.”
“You say that now, but when you’re texting me from a faery’s trunk next month on your way to a ritual sacrifice, don’t say I didn’t warn you.” But Stiles is full on smiling now. Scott is right, their life is gonna be crazy, regardless.
“Do faeries drive cars?” Scott asks seriously, face scrunched up as he thinks it over.
“That’s what you’re choosing to take away from what I said?” Stiles swings an arm out, punctuating his point.
Scott opens his mouth to reply, but Allison kisses him on the cheek and his eyes widen just a little, like they always do when she does things like that. It’s like he’ll always be just a little surprised that she could love him. He turns into her and kisses her back and it’s Stiles’ turn to roll his eyes.
He checks his phone for something to do and sees an unread message. It’s from Lydia: Erica and I are on our way.
He taps out a quick reply (see you soon) and looks back up. Scott and Allison have stopped sucking face, but his attention slips past them and to the road. The Camaro is pulling up the drive to the Hale house, sleek and shiny as ever, but it’s Isaac and Boyd who get out of course.
Stiles slides off his Jeep and walks over, holding out his hand, pulling each of them into a very manly back-slap-hug. “Hey, long time, no see, dudes. You just get back?”
“Yeah, ‘bout an hour ago,” says Boyd, nodding. “We dropped Jackson off at his place, but he said he’d be here. Probably went to see Danny first though, you know them.”
Stiles snorts. “Uh, ye-ah, I think Jackson just likes to check, make sure Danny really is his boyfriend, hasn’t wizened up yet.”
That earns a laugh from everyone and the boys go around him to greet Scott and Allison, too. “So that’s everyone accounted for because Lydia just texted me and Erica’s with her, so that just leaves the guy who called this meeting. Where the fuck is Derek?”
And really, Stiles should know it’s coming.
“Right here,” says Derek from behind him.
"Dammit,” squawks Stiles, and yeah, there’s no hiding how high he jumps, karate chopping the air in front of him as he whips around. “Do you have to do that, dude?”
Derek gives him a glare and lifts an eyebrow, dry as can be as he says, “Yes, it’s on my to-do list, right after ‘eating Red Riding Hood's grandmother' but before ‘howling naked at the moon.’”
He snorts. Sometimes, Stiles regrets that he ever discovered Derek’s sense of humor. “Har, har, funny man. Jesus, you are incapable of being anything less than a creeper, aren’t you?”
A smirk is the only answer he gets and Stiles grumbles before he gestures at the house. “And since when do you lock your front door? We’ve been waiting out here for hours.”
“You’ve been out here for twenty minutes tops, Stiles,” says Derek, digging in his pocket for his keys. “I could smell you before you even hit the property line. And the key’s hidden where it always is, idiot.”
Stiles may in fact bust out a pout. Whatever, honey badger don’t care. “But that’s so much work. My question stands, since when do you lock up?”
Derek sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Can we just take this inside and get started?”
“The meeting’s about your security habits, big guy?” presses Stiles, and he knows he’s pushing it by the look Derek throws him. It’s way less this-is-my-joking-glare and way more you’re-actually-testing-my-patience-now-Stiles. He throws up his hands in surrender.
“Fine, fine, have it your way. Did you remember to buy something to eat this time? Some frozen pizzas at least? I thought I was gonna start eating my hoodie last month.”
Derek lets out a growl but when they get inside, he grudgingly opens the refrigerator and yanks out a meat and cheese tray. Stiles is momentarily distracted by the mental image of Derek in the grocery store buying a deli tray and it makes him laugh. Derek glares.
“Sweet!” says Scott, already digging in, and Isaac and Boyd are right behind him.
“Hey! Leave some for us mere mortals, guys!” Werewolves eat everything.
Allison walks around them with a smile on her face and grabs an apple and a bottle of water from the fridge before she trails after Derek into the living room.
Stiles manages to wrestle away enough ham and cheddar to make a sandwich before Jackson shows up, Lydia and Erica right behind him. Lydia wrinkles her nose and mutters something about not really being into warm meat and Erica laughs and kisses her on the cheek while making promises of sushi later.
They’re honestly a sickeningly sweet couple, and they give Allison and Scott a run for their money. It should be weird, probably, seeing his ex-super-crush with the woman who used to have a super-crush on him, but whatever. Stiles doesn’t dwell. He embraces the now! King of current affairs!
Also, dating Lydia would have been a disaster, but she makes a pretty badass friend, so there’s that. And as a bonus, Erica chilled the fuck out as soon as she started getting laid on a regular basis. He takes a giant bite of his sandwich and holds out his fist in greeting. Lydia gives him a withering look but Stiles doesn’t even flinch.
He cocks his head to the side and waggles his eyebrows, and Lydia rolls her eyes and finally laughs, bumping her fist to his. “Striking as ever, Stiles.”
“Hey, I got moves. You know you want this.”
It’s Erica’s turn to give him a look but then she just shakes her head, punching him lightly (for a werewolf) in the shoulder, brushing past him into the living room as she shouts, “Is it too late to let those leprechauns keep Stiles?”
Lydia laughs at the face he’s making and links her arm with his as she pulls him from the kitchen to join everyone else. “Come on, all the good spots are gonna be taken.”
To be fair, there really is no bad spot in Derek’s living room. When he finally committed to remodeling his house last summer, he went for broke. They needed a place to gather, to lick their wounds when the outside world was too much.
Personally, Stiles thinks Derek missed the feeling of having his house overflowing with people, with loud voices and laughter, with roughhousing and affection. With pack, with family. So, yeah, the living room is stuffed with cushy seating and pillows, and there’s always someone willing to make room next to them.
Derek looks up when they come in and he catches Stiles' eyes, expression unreadable. Sometimes, there are still moments when Stiles wonders if Alphas can’t read emotions to the point of actual empathic ability, but he’s never been able to get Derek to cop to it. He swallows against the feeling in his chest and breaks eye contact, scoping out the available real estate.
Lydia breaks away to curl up next to Erica and Stiles plops down next to Isaac, risking life and limb to steal the bag of potato chips sitting between him and Boyd. Derek calls the meeting to something resembling order and Stiles munches on his tasty, tasty snack while Derek details the game plan for the school year, how they are totally not going to get into any trouble, how Allison is super awesome for making the hunters keep their distance, and how shock-of-shocks, he’s sure everyone will do well this year. Stiles is paraphrasing, obviously, but it’s a pretty good meeting.
Plus, even though it’s Jackson’s night to pick the movie, they end up watching The Dark Knight, which is always awesome.
They make it almost three weeks into the new semester without all hell breaking loose. It’s a new best.
“What the hell are those things?” shouts Isaac, leaping over where Stiles is crouched on the ground behind an overturned table in the cafeteria.
“Trolls,” pants Stiles. “Fucking trolls!”
“Trolls?” Isaac seems dubious. “Aren’t those supposed to be… bigger?”
Stiles grimaces, glancing behind him to where Lydia is currently checking Jackson’s pulse and Boyd is digging in his bag for first aid equipment. Jackson never did heal as quickly as the wolves after he gained control of himself.
He turns back to Isaac. “They are… when they’re adults. I think those are adolescents.”
“Are you telling me,” snaps Erica as she takes off her now shredded and disgusting jacket, “that there’s an even bigger mama troll out there?”
“Actually, it’d be the papa troll, technically. Trolls are matriarchal, the women hunt and fight and the males rear their young…”
“Yes! Yes, okay! There’s a bigger one out there somewhere, possibly several. They’re pack creatures, from what I’ve read, even meaner than they are stupid, and very territorial.”
“Perfect,” mutters Isaac. “Did you get ahold of the others? Are they on their way?”
Just then a chair goes flying over their heads and crashes into the far wall.
Two, no, three of the trolls come lumbering into the room. They’re dragging a fourth who is bleeding a sickly blue-green blood, leaving it smeared across the floor. They smell foul.
“I sent the text to everyone, okay? But Derek, Scott, and Allison are meeting with the Hunters Council, and they may not have even seen it yet,” says Stiles, hating his life by a lot. One minute, Jackson is helping him practice for lacrosse (this is his senior year and he is making first line in January, dammit). The next minute…
And Jackson saved his life. Stiles is never going to hear the end of that.
Boyd comes up next to him, eyes glowing bright as he snarls at the trolls, his arms slightly extended at his sides, claws at the ready. "There are six of us and three of them. We just need to figure out their weakness. Stiles, any ideas?"
Not for the first time, Stiles thinks Boyd is a natural leader. He wouldn't be surprised if one day, he went off to form his own pack. He would shoulder the responsibilities of being an Alpha well. But Stiles shakes his head to clear it and tries to think. He never actually considered that they'd have to really fight trolls one day. He researched them because he thought they were interesting!
"Um, lightning?" he says helplessly. "In the old legends, people would call on Thor to battle them."
Lydia chooses then to chime in. "Well, I don't see Chris Hemsworth anywhere, do you? So you'd better come up with a workable alternative or we're all going to end up with our skulls bashed in, and I, for one, am not into that look!"
If Lydia's voice goes a little shrill at the end, Stiles'll never point it out to her. He turns, catching sight of Jackson, sitting up now but still looking out of it. So really, they've got three werewolves, Lydia, Stiles, and one down-for-the-count Jackson. Lydia's abilities are fairly touch-and-go, especially under stress, and Stiles... Well, he starts looking for a viable electricity source.
"Keep them here, I'll be right back." He scrambles up and barely dodges as another chair goes flying from the advancing trolls.
Stiles bursts through the double doors into the kitchen, frantically searching for an extension cord or -- or something, anything. He's not picky. He's not even sure this plan will work. It's not every day he goes around trying to electrocute jolly green giants! Okay, mini-giants. Regular-sized jolly green people.
He hears a crash and a lot of growling.
Regular-sized not-so-jolly green, um... things.
"Get it together, Stilinski!" he says to himself, blinking rapidly. He does find an extension cord, and a gallon of water. He grabs a kitchen knife and starts stripping the end of the cord, exposing the wires as he marches toward the chaos.
Fuck he hopes this works.
So, yeah. It works. A little too well.
Stiles wakes up, staring up at the cafeteria ceiling. He feels... weird.
He blinks a few times and realizes Lydia is hovering over him looking distinctly frantic. Her lips are moving. He can't hear her.
His heart thumps painfully in his chest, so hard it makes him cough, jolting his body as he gasps and rolls onto his side. With a sudden whoosh, his hearing kicks back in and everything floods his system at once: sound, smell, taste, and touch.
His mouth tastes like blood and he realizes he bit his own tongue, and that's when he remembers what happened. He sits up and blinks, still a little dizzy.
"You idiot! You could have DIED! Are you -- are you insane? You just FRIED YOURSELF. You're lucky you got knocked clear by the trolls or you'd be DEAD."
It takes him a moment to realize it's Jackson shouting at him now, but he probably should have guessed. Jackson never misses an opportunity to disparage his heroics! Even if he is showing an uncharacteristic amount of concern for Stiles' life, but hey at least he knows Jackson really does care.
Stiles winces, still struggling to breathe normally. He does feel kind of... cooked, singed around the edges. "It worked though, right?"
Lydia thumps him lightly but then brushes her fingers through the hair he's only just starting to grow out as she studies his face. "Of course it worked. You're a genius, even if you're also a moron. Don't ever do that again, Stiles. If you died..."
"I know, I know, you guys'd have to find someone else to do all the research. Buzzkill, totally. I get it," says Stiles, laughing it off. It feels weird, having everyone staring at him, worried about him.
Erica rolls her eyes from behind Lydia and gets up. "I'm gonna go help Isaac and Boyd ditch the bodies."
"They didn't turn to stone? Bummer, I thought they might," sighs Stiles. "Ugh, anyway, let's get out of here. I told you, there's probably more of them, and I really don't want to know what'd happen to us in the face of full grown monsters out for revenge."
They're just clamoring down the steps to the parking lot when Derek, Scott, and Allison finally show up, skidding to a stop and jumping out, clearly ready for a fight. Allison's got her bow at the ready and Stiles holds up his hands in surrender.
"Hey, coast's clear guys!" he says brightly, and gets a scowl from Derek for his trouble.
"And you couldn't have texted us that?" complains Allison, lowering her bow and putting her arrow back.
"Erm, busy burying trolls."
Scotts eyes go comically round. "Trolls."
"Yes, trolls! Man, does no one else around here read anything, ever?" asks Stiles, sniffing. Ugh, he thinks he's actually smoldering right now.
Apparently, Derek notices too, because his eyes narrow and he steps forward. "And what happened to you? Your..." he trails off, pausing as he tips his head like he's listening to something and then he snaps, "Your heart. Why does it sound different?"
"Ah," says Stiles, laughing faintly. "Um, well, see, did you know trolls can be killed with lightning?"
Stiles can see the moment it clicks for Derek and he lets out a snarl. Stiles giggles, feeling a little hysterical. He's probably having an acute stress reaction. Psychological shock! Hey, better than circulatory shock, which wouldn't be out of the question, all things considered. Then he'd really be fucked!
"It's not funny." Derek doesn't sound even a little amused. "The rhythm of your heartbeat has actually changed. You stopped your own heart. Stiles, stop laughing, you could have died, dammit."
He can feel his face heating up. Fuck, he really hates it when Derek goes all Concerned Alpha on him. He doesn't know how to deal with it, and he just ends up babbling and flailing around and making no damn sense. He tries to change the subject. "Now you just sound like Jackson! You know Jackson saved my life tonight. You should give him a gold star or something. Even if he is kind of a dick. No offense!"
"None taken, dude," mutters Jackson, his eyebrows shooting up as he looks away. There's a distinct air of awkward hovering over him.
In fact, everyone seems a little uncomfortable. Probably because Derek is audibly growling right now.
Stiles sighs, sobering considerably. "Listen, I appreciate the concern, but right now I really just want to get home before my dad does and do my calculus homework and be done with this shit for the night, okay? So could you just move?"
Derek doesn't move. Instead he bites out, "You need to go to the hospital."
"Yeah, that's not gonna happen! I have to worry enough as it is about my dad having a heart attack. I'm not gonna give him one by going to the hospital when I'm perfectly fine, okay? I just need to sleep it off."
He goes to step around Derek, but Derek steps with him, his hand darting out, pushing against Stiles' chest. "Out of the fucking question."
"You drag me to the hospital right now, Derek, and I'll swear up and down nothing happened to me. They're not going to admit me against my will. They're just going to call my dad and then you can explain to him what I was doing tonight that would require a hospital visit!" If Stiles thought he could get away with stomping his foot right now, he would totally do it.
Derek's fingers curl into the fabric of Stiles' shirt and he yanks him closer. "Fine, then you can call your dad, make any excuse you have to, but you're coming home with me so that I can watch you. You can't go home where your dad doesn't even know something could go wrong."
Stiles flexes his jaw, mouth tight as he glares back at Derek. Ugh, he hates how quickly Derek can still piss him off, even after everything, even knowing what a good guy he turned out to be. Hell, maybe that's become half the reason he can still piss Stiles off so much. He wants to tell Derek no, he wants to tell him to go to hell. Derek's not in charge of him.
But then Lydia pipes up, the first person to dare to speak since he and Derek really got going, and she says, "Stiles, come on. He has a point. You might even have a concussion. You hit the ground pretty hard when you got knocked clear."
When Derek and Lydia agree, he knows there's no winning against them. "Et tu, Lydia? Et tu?"
No one responds, and Derek's still entirely too close, looking like he's two minutes away from dragging Stiles back to the house by force if necessary. Stiles' shoulders slump and he says, "Oh alright, but someone needs to sneak up to my room. I need my laptop and some clean clothes! And my toothbrush!"
Derek rolls his eyes but lets him go, satisfied. "And you're not driving either. Let Isaac and Boyd get your car to my place. They'll grab your stuff too."
"My baby!" he gasps, scandalized. He never lets anyone else drive the Jeep! Ever.
"They're not going to hurt that piece of shit Jeep, Stiles. Get over it," says Derek. "Come on, you're riding with me."
Stiles feels like he's an errant puppy who pissed on the carpet as Derek takes a hold of his arm and drags him to the Corvette he started driving when he gave the Camaro to Isaac. He jerks his arm out of Derek's grip even though it hurts. "It's not a piece of shit. It was my mom's."
He gets a vindictive sort of relief at the look on Derek's face. Stiles yanks the passenger door open himself and gets in, slamming it before Derek can reply.
He doesn't know how this evening spiraled out of control so quickly. Okay, yes, there were the trolls, but Stiles thought they did a pretty good job handling it. He thought he did a pretty good job handling it! He's the one who took them down, in the end, and yeah, so it went a little sideways and he electrocuted the buh-jesus out of himself, but whatever! It worked. And he was happy, he felt accomplished.
And then Derek managed to make him feel like an incompetent fuck-up in two seconds flat even though he's the one who saved everyone!
He calls his dad, and somehow, miraculously, convinces him that he's gonna stay at Jackson's because they're going to get up early for more lacrosse practice. Stiles' dad knows how important first line is to him, though, so he lets it slide, tells Stiles he's working a double tomorrow anyway, so if he wants he can stay the night Saturday, too. Stiles always feels the worse about lying to his dad when he's so understanding.
When he gets off the phone, Stiles refuses to even look at the rest of the pack through the window, keeps his eyes forward, boring holes in Derek's dash, waiting for him to climb into the driver's seat so they can go.
Derek's silent when he does get in. He starts the car and they pull away smoothly, heading east and out of town, to the woods. Stiles knows the way well and he leans back, watching as the landscape shifts, changes into dense foliage, the air coming in through the vent taking on the scent of rich, dark earth, of thick flora and a full-to-bursting forest of fauna. It used to calm him, when he was little.
His mom would take him for picnics, loading up the Jeep with lawn chairs and blankets and a big, cliche basket of food. She'd take Stiles out here for the whole day, let him run wild, play pirates and Robin Hood and cowboys with him all day. She never told Stiles he was wrong when he wanted Robin's merry men to be astronauts or if he said the best cowboy was also a mermaid named Lydia. She understood him.
She was his best friend, his only friend then.
But now, the woods... the woods are associated with other things. With Scott getting bit. With people dying. With pack. And.. with Derek.
It's confusing, conflicting. Just like Derek.
He wraps his arms around himself, shivering. It's not even that cold. He thinks it's probably a physiological manifestation of his emotional shock. He thinks he read that somewhere once.
Derek's voice breaks the silence, low and gravelly and full of regret. "I didn't mean -- I didn't know about the Jeep. I'm sorry."
Stiles shrugs, pretends to not be surprised at how easily Derek offered an apology. He jiggles his leg, restless, and replies, "Yeah, whatever."
He's not in a very forgiving mood, what with how he's still being forced to go home with Derek. He can hear the leather creaking under Derek's grip as his hands tighten on the steering wheel.
"Would you stop, Stiles? I'm not sorry about looking after you. If it were anyone else, you'd be on my side. Why do you always have it in your head that no one else is allowed to take care of you?"
Stiles' stomach flips nastily and he swallows hard, hoping his voice won't come out as shaky as he suddenly feels. "Just because I'm human doesn't mean I need to be taken care of. I think I've proved my worth in this pack. I don't need you implying that I can't take care of myself."
"The fact that you're worth something to m-- to my pack," grounds out Derek, like he can barely contain himself in order to speak, "is exactly why I want to make sure you're okay. And I don't think you're weak just because you're human."
"Oh, so you think I'm weak for some other unexplained reason?" And Stiles knows he's being intentionally thick, but he doesn't care. Every time he feels like things are maybe okay with Derek, finally, that he's not going to be a massive asshole about Stiles, about his humanity, shit like this happens. Stiles doesn't have to put up with it!
"Don't put words in my mouth!" Derek slams the heel of his palm against the steering wheel and then swerves to the side of the gravel road they've been barreling down, pulling to an abrupt stop.
"Almosts two years, Stiles. It's been almost two years since we ended up in each other's lives and you still question me at every turn, still doubt my motives and the minute you don't get your way, you act like I'm trying to ruin your life by existing." Derek's eyes are glowing red now, but Stiles isn't afraid.
Stiles can't remember the last time he was genuinely afraid of Derek because he knows Derek doesn't lose control. If his eyes are red, it's because he wants them to be.
"That's not even true!" he shouts. "I'm always sticking up for you!"
Every time Scott doubts Derek's choices, every time Erica calls him a domineering prick behind his back, every time Jackson questions if Derek even knows what he's doing at all, Stiles is there! Stiles is the one to point out that yes, Derek can be an asshole and his choices can seem a little sketchy sometimes and yeah, there have been a few moments where the fact that Derek lost his family at sixteen shows, but Derek did eventually get his shit together.
Derek's motivations have always been genuine and even when he's an unbearable overbearing dick, he's still their Alpha. More importantly, he's still someone Stiles trusts now.
Stiles just wishes the same could be said in reverse, that Derek would ever, just once, trust in Stiles.
"You sure as hell haven't done it within earshot of me. And let me tell you, I don't even have to be in the same building to pick up what you're saying!"
"What the hell does that even mean? Is that some new, clever way to tell me what a loudmouth I am? How I never shut up? Thanks for that. Can never get enough of people complaining about me talking." And yes, he's completely ignoring the other part of that, how apparently Derek has no idea how Stiles feels about him.
He thought Derek knew. He thought he understood. Stiles can't say it outloud, can't admit how much he thinks of Derek when he knows the sentiment isn't returned.
Derek stares back at him. The silence stretches out, lasts so long that Stiles starts to fidget under the weight of it. It lasts until Derek's eyes go muddy green again, the red bleeding out of them like a sluggish wound, every heartbeat expelling Derek's anger.
"It means I'm always listening to you, Stiles. I'm always listening for you," admits Derek, shaking his head as he turns back to the road, starting the car again.
Stiles has no idea what to say to that, what to make of it. So for once, he says nothing at all.