Actions

Work Header

I Intend to be Independently Blue

Chapter Text

Stiles is the worst thing that could have happened to Derek.

No. That's an exaggeration. Derek is willing to admit --- to himself and absolutely no one else, ever --- that he's prone to exaggeration on occasion.

Stiles couldn't be the worst. Derek's parents died in a fire set by his girlfriend. His sister was brutally murdered by his uncle. He was forced to kill his uncle and adopt a role he never actually wanted. In comparison, Stiles is a minor inconvenience. But the basic tenet behind the statement holds true; Stiles is a thorn in his side.

Derek's been struggling alone for a long time. Laura wasn't prepared for her role as Alpha, and there was little she knew enough about to teach him. She'd tried, he knows she had. Made him work through drills, lectured him constantly. She wasn't the best teacher. She didn't have a nurturing bone in her body, wasn't old enough to develop one. Had very persuasive teeth. Questions were met with gritting if he was lucky, gnashing if he wasn't. The bulk of his knowledge comes from instinct, half-remembered conversations and excruciating practice sessions where he mostly concluded the answer was 'don't piss off your sister'. There are some things he's never truly learned.

Like how to control his inner beast.

It's --- a problem. One he's had to live with. He hasn't been wolfing out at inopportune moments since his teens, but only because he has a system in place. And this is where Stiles comes into play. Because he's been messing with it, and doesn't even know.

*

Stiles shuffles into his room, slamming his bag onto the floor. He turns towards his bed, pauses, makes a moue of confusion because he does not remember buying a Derek-shaped lamp. Oh, wait, that's right. He didn't. Standing in his corner is actual Derek. Derek, who is scowling at him impressively. Stiles is impressed. Derek is about the only person he knows, barring maybe Jackson and Lydia, who can make such an unattractive expression look good. Stiles thinks he should probably be worried that a) he wasn't shocked enough to find Derek hiding in his room to even warrant a slight jump, and b) he's had time to go through several mental processes before they talk.

"Hi, Derek," he says, stretching the vowels out so that the short phrase takes long enough to say he's had time to sit in his chair and kick his feet up onto his desk.

Derek stares at him. When is Derek ever not staring at him? Usually when he's staring at Scott. Derek should have awards for his ability to hold eye-contact. Stiles, who isn't known for being a bastion of patience when it comes to these kinds of interactions anyway, feels his irritation building.

"What do you want?"

"Research?" Derek replies, voice clipped and sarcastic. He frames it as a question, but it's a statement.

"On? C'mon little wolfie, try to use your words."

Stiles is gratifyingly shocked with himself over his snarkiness, but, honestly, it's been the longest Friday in existence, he's exhausted to the marrow of his no doubt crunchy, crunchy bones, and he'd been hoping for a few hours of peace to himself after getting home from school, so he's not so much with the caring about showing Derek respect. Respect is earned, in his opinion, and with more than an occasional rescue from creatures hell bent on eating Stiles for breakfast. Especially when he often ends up being the real savior.

Predictably, Derek's eyes both double in size and glow red. "I never know if you're insanely brave, or insanely stupid," he says, all deceptively calm monotone.

"Insane," Stiles supplies, because, hey, it's not exactly a lie.

He's had his moments, in the past. Locking himself in his room for three and a half weeks and watching reruns of I Love Lucy after his mom died. Going deep into the darkened woods to look for half a dead body. And Derek does bring out his wackier side.

Derek is still staring at him, not moving, not saying a word. He looks like he's waiting for Stiles, which is a whole new level of worrying.

"What is it that you want my help researching?"

"I think there's a wendigo in the area."

"Okay. Yet another supernatural creature. Here. Is Beacon Hills, by any chance, located on the Hellmouth?"

Derek rolls his eyes. "No. But Beacon Hills is a relatively small town filled with loners no one would notice missing, and it's surrounded by woodland, so it's attractive to those seeking to inconspicuously chow down on some human flesh."

"Is that from your latest brochure? Are you hoping to recruit this wendigo into your pack?"

"Stiles, wendigos aren't a joking matter," Derek says, going all growly and fierce. "They aren't content with a single victim. They're gluttons. They grow larger the more they eat, so they're never satisfied. And they don't just eat ordinary humans, they eat werewolves and other shapeshifters too."

Stiles feels his fingers itching to type in some search terms, but since he's pretty sure this conversation is the most Derek's ever spoken to him, including their two hour stint in the Beacon Hills High pool, he wants to push this a little more.

"It already sounds like you know a lot about them. Why do you need me?"

"I don't know whether it's a wendigo that's travelled into Beacon Hills, or someone who's transformed into a wendigo because of cannibalistic tendencies. I don't know how to find it or stop it once it's been found. "

Stiles nods, more for something to do than from any necessity. "I'll do my best. How do you want the information? Do you even have an email address?"

Derek looks unimpressed. "This isn't a homework assignment. Your deadline is both literal and immediate. Get searching."

Derek moves from his position in the corner and flings himself onto Stiles' bed. He lounges, seemingly at home.

"Right," Stiles says, shoulders tensing. He glances at the taut lines of Derek's arms as he puts his hands behind his head, then steadfastly looks back at his laptop. "Feel free to claim my furniture as your own. I wasn't planning on having an afternoon siesta anyway."

"I should hope not," Derek counters, nothing vague about the threat in his tone.

Stiles doesn't know what he's done to deserve this.

Two hours, some fact-spilling and grunting later, Stiles has the saddened realization that Derek isn't likely to pay for the fifty sheets' worth of ink currently printing. He also has a stomach that won't quit announcing to the world that he hasn't eaten since breakfast --- too busy studying for Harris's latest Spanish Inquisition-style torture test to make it to the cafeteria. Derek doesn't comment when he gets up and heads down to the kitchen. Chances are, it's because he can hear what he's doing. And isn't that a nice and creepy thought? What if he'd gone out of the room for a bathroom related reason? Would Derek listen in then too? Ew. Stiles is so not okay with his over-active curiosity.

He makes a triple-decker BLT, thinks twice about it, turns it into two BLTs, trudges up the stairs and back into his room. He half-expects Derek to be out the window with his hours of work, but, no, Derek's still poised on his bed, reading Stiles' beloved copy of From the Earth to the Moon, given to him by his mom, a month before she passed away. Stiles is surprised he doesn't have the urge to tell Derek to get his paws off the book, but he figures his subconscious is aware of the danger in the action. He goes to pass Derek his plate.

"You made me something to eat?" Derek asks, clearly nonplussed.

"Yeah, well, I was brought up with manners, so." He proffers the plate again.

Derek's eyes are turning red as he looks up at Stiles. And, seriously? Seriously? Maybe he's too insensitive for his own good. Stiles knows Derek's history. He snatches his hand back and heads toward his laptop, hoping that he wasn't moving fast enough to make Derek think he'd be fun to chase. He puts the plate on his desk, cradles his own in his lap and starts to lift a perfect-looking triangle. There's a frustrated-sounding snuffle from the bed.

"I never said I didn't want it," Derek rumbles. "I was surprised, that's all."

Stiles chances another look at Derek and can see his eyes are light again. He's damn near pouting. Stiles takes pity and grasps the plate again, rolling to Derek and depositing it on his legs. Derek grabs half the sandwich, and contrary to Stiles' expectation of it disappearing in one bite, nibbles off the crust.

Derek seems to notice Stiles' fascination, because he swallows. "Haven't had anything resembling a sandwich in years," he explains. "No real point in going to the trouble of buying all the necessary ingredients. I've missed them, though."

And, okay, it's weirdly personal confession time. Stiles can run with that. They can have a moment. Sure, why not?

"The book you were reading is my favorite. Verne was a genius. I mean, what a visionary. Writing about space travel long before even rudimentary air travel was totally achievable."

"Have you read the sequel?" Derek asks, which --- what?

"Not yet. I kind of liked the ambiguity of the ending, you know? I don't wanna spoil that by having all the answers."

Derek ducks his head in what could be agreement, but is also certainly dismissal. Stiles wheels back to his laptop. His appetite wanes as he looks at the skeletal face depicted in an artist's rendition of a wendigo. The idea of that kind of creature out and about makes him curse his obvious uselessness in battle.

"There's nothing here that suggests that wendigos can be bargained with, or taught not to terrorize and mangle unsuspecting victims, so what are you planning on doing?"

"I'm planning on killing it, Stiles, what'd you think I was gonna do? Persuade it to be my pet?"

Stiles raises an eyebrow. "You've already got three, you don't really need another, do you?"

"If my pack were pets I could get them obedience trained," Derek grumbles, which continues his trend this afternoon of being frighteningly honest and not a little disturbing.

Stiles gathers up the print-outs and his two page summary. He shuffles them into a neat pile, uses a binder clip. The routine of it gives him focus, so that when he's handing the paper to Derek, he's not as inclined to mouth off at him. Derek's still chewing at his sandwich, almost finished, a crumb sitting at the corner of his lips. Stiles resolutely does not stare at that crumb, or imagine himself brushing it away with his thumb, or contemplate licking it off. Nuh-uh. Never. Because on a scale of one-to-ten regarding crushing on Derek being a good idea, Stiles is firmly placed at negative nine hundred and sixty five.

"If you need any more help, I could probably spare an hour or two this week," Stiles says.

Derek peers up at him warily. "You'd help me. Willingly."

"Already did, didn't I? I could've called Dad, cried wolf. I chose to be magnanimous."

"You didn't have a choice."

Stiles shrugs. "If that's what you tell yourself to help you sleep at night, okay. But, anyway, the offer's there."

Stiles doesn't exactly know why the offer's there, except that he really hates the idea of a wendigo gorging on his classmates. Also, Stiles really doesn't want Derek going after supposed wendigos on substandard information. He wants to be positive the alleged wendigo in question is completely irredeemable.

Derek's eyes flash red again and the claws on his right paw scratch up Stiles' eiderdown as he leans over to put the plate on the floor. "I'll let you know if I need any bait," he says, all mocking and haughty. He doesn't actually sound like he wants to tear Stiles limb from limb. When he looks at his claws, there's something similar to surprise in his expression.

Stiles gestures toward his window. "Well, as delightful as it has been acting as your personal Google, Derek, my dad's coming home soon, so here's your exit-point."

Derek takes the hint and leaves without another word, taking his paper with him. Stiles totally didn't expect any gratitude, but he mumbles angrily to himself at not getting any regardless.

*

If he had any sense, Derek would avoid Stiles at all costs. He's never really been one for sense. He fell for Kate, after all. Followed along with Peter's plans. Bit Isaac, Erica and Boyd.

He's not so inclined to self-flagellate over Boyd, because the kid's got a head on his shoulders, but the other two? Now that his ego's come crashing down to Earth, and his sense of responsibility is overshadowing his surges of power, he can accept that he may have made a mistake, there. He had thought that their vulnerability would make them easier to mold, would mean that they'd rely on him more, but the opposite's true. They're suffering from the same illusion of invincibility he did. He knows they only listen to him because of instinct.

He hasn't even told them what's going on, or asked for their assistance with the wendigo. He's told himself it's to keep them safe, but he knows it's a lie. He doesn't want them involved because the possibility of it spiralling out of control if he does so increases tenfold. He does need help, though. The places the creature might be hiding are numerous. Knowing where to go next is a game of guesswork. He's thought about asking Stiles. The offer was there.

Yeah, Stiles-avoidance would be the smart thing to do, but he'd never be this close to finding the wendigo without him. And he needs to get closer still. Three people have gone missing already. The greater power the wendigo amasses, the more likely it is it'll attack his pack, wanting to establish Beacon Hills as its territory. It might even be the type of wendigo that wants to convert some of its prey. Derek doesn't know for sure. After three days and no luck, Derek is in serious contemplation mode. He begins to mentally draw up a list of potential pros and cons.

Pro: They might find the wendigo quicker.
Con: Thereby rendering any need to contact Stiles again moot.
Pro: They could talk more about Jules Verne.
Con: Only serving to calm Derek, leading to the prospect of wholesale massacre.
Pro: Stiles might bring him something to eat again.
Con: The kindness of the gesture may very well tip him over the edge right then and there.
Pro: He'd be well-fed.
Con: Possibly with Stiles' twitching, bloodied corpse.

The cons always outweigh the pros. One thing that always helps him keep an edge over his inner wolf is the irritation he feels at how much Stiles hates him, so when Stiles' scent shifts to indicate he isn't wishing he could be anywhere other than near Derek, he knows he's truly in trouble. And that's what it was like at Stiles' house. There were entire minutes when they were companionable together.

He doesn't entirely know what it is about Stiles that screws with his reflexes, why his body's convinced it's time to turn into the wolf. He knows it's linked to his heartbeat. He has a horrible suspicion it's also tangled up with his emotions. He's not going to think about that one too much.

So, knowing how horrendous this idea is, and fully anticipating it blowing up in his face, Derek continues to scuttle over the Stilinski household roof, because life's too short for being sensible and smart.

*

Stiles awakens to red eyes glowing at him through the dark. He leaps about nine feet in the air and has to bite his fist from screaming aloud at an embarrassingly high pitch. He locked his window, he knows he did, so that means Derek came into his house via some other access route. Stiles immediately casts his gaze from his window toward his open door. Thankfully, he knows his dad is working the super late shift occasionally required by the town Sheriff and won't be coming home until four in the morning. His phone indicates it's quarter to two.

"The bathroom window was open," Derek says, as if hearing his thoughts.

Oh God, he can't do that, can he? There are so many thoughts Stiles would rather remain hidden deep in the dark recesses of his brain than broadcast to werekind. Just --- thousand and thousands of examples that he's a teenaged boy with a not-so-healthy imagination and ability to circumvent safe-search filters.

Stiles is up and out of his bed in ten seconds flat, stalking over to Derek and shoving him against the wall. Bad idea, or worst idea?

"That wasn't an invitation."

Derek raises his eyebrows. His eyes haven't stopped glowing, and as he pries Stiles' hands off his chest, his claws are extended. He's here for a late-night snack?

"Get dressed. We're going hunting."

"How about hell no?"

Derek grabs his shoulders and begins propelling him out the door. "Fine. Freeze. I'm sure the wendigo won't mind a Stilescicle."

Stiles holds his ground and is sad that he's aware he's only successful because Derek's allowing him to be. He pokes at Derek's very firm chest again. "I'm not gonna act as your bait, Derek. I value my life."

"Says the boy arguing with a werewolf," Derek retorts. He smirks, and his claws grow longer as he does so. "Tell you what --- I promise not to use you as bait as long as you get changed right now and bring your most up-to-date wendigo knowledge."

"What makes you think I have any?"

"Compulsive inability to leave anything alone is kind of your main defining trait."

Stiles huffs out a sigh and picks up his jeans from his floor. He raises an eyebrow at Derek and makes a twirling gesture with his finger, but Derek doesn't move. He glitters at Stiles, leaning against the door-jamb with his arms crossed.

"When I offered to help, I meant with prior consent, and not at ridiculous o'clock on a school night," Stiles points out, because maybe if he complains hard enough, Derek will decide Stiles is more trouble than he's worth and demand another print-out as opposed to his eternally miserable company.

"If you didn't expect me to take you up on your offer, you should've kept your mouth shut."

As he pulls on his hoodie, Stiles keeps up a steady stream of grumbling. "You know, I couldn't agree more. Can we both pretend I did?"

"No." Derek says; short, sharp, shiny with teeth. His eyes aren't glowing anymore, but his fangs are still longer than they should be. "I hope you realize that all this petulance just makes me want to annoy you even more."

"Do you really need me?" Stiles whines as Derek hands him his jacket. Derek wasn't joking about the potential for freezing. It's icy.

"Yes, I do. You think I'd be here, otherwise?"

Stiles hates himself for the way his heart thumps at Derek's 'yes'. Since when did he begin to crave Derek's approval? There is something drastically, desperately wrong inside his head.

"No one can say with you, Derek. You're a man of mystery."

"You're wasting time."

"Yeah, don't you think the wendigo will be wendigone by now?" It's a last resort, Stiles knows. Bad punnery has to count for something, though.

All it counts for is a shove out his door. "Get going, Stiles, or you'll be wendikibble."

Of course Derek would be able to match him when it comes to terrible puns. Stiles hates his life.

Chapter Text

Stiles demands to know where Derek has already been, which should make Derek want to snarl, but doesn't. He tells him, in an economy of vocabulary that has Stiles snarking about his ebullience. He actually uses the word 'ebullience'. And Derek doesn't say that of course he's eager to snap this wendigo in two, because that's a statement floating in a gray sea of 'maybe not' and he decided a while ago that he'll lie by omission, but not by intention. Not after Peter.

Derek will kill because he has to, not because he wants to. Because someone has to stop this menace and he has the power to do it. He takes care of his own, and if that's the whole town of Beacon Hills then so be it. But he doesn't relish the idea as much as he suspects he should. Not in the way Laura attempted to train him to. Killing always feels like a hollow victory.

Stiles immediately thinks of ten other places they could be staking out in order to find the wendigo, and Derek thinks he'd thank his lucky stars a tactician like Stiles is on his side, if Stiles was actually on his side. He drives, because Stiles' Jeep is in the shop, and even if it hadn't been, Derek doesn't think they're making it back before four in the morning, the time Stiles said his dad would be home. Stiles seems resigned to his fate, and has stopped complaining. About this expedition. He doesn't stop complaining about school. Derek can't find it within him to sympathize, because he's never gotten to finish school and he's always wished he could. When he says that, Stiles' mouth falls open and he gapes at him for minutes.

"Wow," Stiles says eventually. "That's --- something. I don't know what. Over-sharing, maybe?"

"Just trying to teach you a lesson," he replies.

But it wasn't that, not really. It was other things. Like the fact Stiles is the only person he can fully be his human side around. When he thinks about that, really considers it, he realizes that's by his own design. In assembling his pack he picked people he thought would need a leader, would worship a flawless, all-knowing force, so he has to be that flawless, all-knowing force. And it hasn't been working, but he doesn't know what to change so that it will. With Scott, he has to seem like he's a worthwhile cause as an ally, someone who needs a little assistance, but can mostly provide assistance to Scott. Since Stiles is probably never truly going to believe any of those things, too smart to fall for the lies, he can strip off his masks one by one. Stiles doesn't care that he's grouchy --- he expects it. Doesn't worry about his sarcasm --- he can effortlessly match it. Doesn't think he's perfect, or should be perfect --- quite the opposite.

Outer suburban Beacon Hills is more like a wasteland post-'GFC', which is not something he's ever had much reason to care about, he has enough money to be getting by with. Unlike the former residents here. There are abandoned shops and houses, wrecked cars on the side of the road. In New York, during reminiscing, Derek didn't think it was possible that Beacon Hills had suburbs, and maybe, technically, it doesn't. But there are pockets of Beacon Hills that civilization has left to decay, collections of streets that were once thriving and are now gathering mold. And wendigos, potentially. There are five empty, crumbling houses along this street and all of them could be a safe-haven for his prey. Their prey.

Derek climbs out of the car and Stiles follows, because he may simply be insane, but his brand of insanity looks like bravery. Derek tilts his head to the side, tries to pick up a clue on whether the wendigo has been near, is almost decided it has when Stiles interrupts.

"So what are you thinking here?"

"I'm not," Derek answers, carefully. "I'm trying to pick up a scent."

Stiles mercifully goes silent and Derek tries again, and, yes, there's a rotting, sickly-sweet and fetid smell coming from the house to their right. He doesn't think it's strong enough that the wendigo is still lurking, but he drags Stiles behind him anyway. He vaults over the fence, indicates for Stiles to follow. Soon, they're crouched down in the backyard, surrounded by over-grown bushes, blackened in the night-time, and half-dead besides. Derek's listening in for any sign of movement. He wants to be positive the wendigo's cleared out before he raids the house for clues.

"Wouldn't you have been able to trap the wendigo if you'd brought your pack? Or Scott?"

"Maybe," Derek says. "But it's too great a risk. I don't want to put any unnecessary lives on the line."

Stiles' voice rises in pitch. "Then why am I here?"

"You offered. And you said it yourself --- you're my personal Google." He leans in close to Stiles, whispers in his ear. "You're my own walking, talking Wikipedia."

Derek feels his claws digging into the dirt with his delight at Stiles' indignant expression. He turns his head away so Stiles won't see any other aspects of his shift. It's only in remembering how recently the wendigo was in the area that he can bring himself back.

"No. Of course. I'm expendable," Stiles says. He sounds strange, like something's caught in his throat. And Derek thinks maybe his teasing went a little too far, which makes him feel almost guilty. He's not a heartless monster. If anything, his heart is annoyingly omnipresent.

"I can rescue one puny human," Derek corrects, "but four werewolves? Dumbass teenaged werewolves? More trouble than they're worth."

Stiles does his best impression of a goldfish, stumbling as he follows Derek creeping toward the house. The windows are all broken, so getting in won't be an issue. Derek can't hear another heart beat and the stench in the house smells diluted, like it's a remnant of a scent. He opens up the nearest window and slinks inside, turning back around to offer Stiles his hand. When Stiles stares as it as opposed to taking it, he grasps the scruff of Stiles' jacket and hauls him up.

"I think the wendigo vacated a day ago, but stay close, stay silent, just in case."

Stiles nods and stays close enough that his breath jets against Derek's neck. It's disconcerting how his own breathing falls into the same tempo; quick and shallow. He doesn't know what he's expecting to find that'll give them any hint of where the wendigo's gone next. This is the first time he's encountered one. He remembers bedtime horror stories, told by Laura as he and his cousins cowered around campfires in the woods. It should have taken a lot to scare him, he'd always known he'd grow up faster, stronger than Joey or Beth, but he thinks he was the most afraid. Nothing like staring into the monster to find the monster staring back at him. Most of the time he's not ashamed by who or what he is. He's proud of his legacy. But there are times it's more curse than gift. He needs to remind himself that wendigos aren't like werewolves. They don't have the same conscience, the same agency. Their instincts drive them totally beyond control, in every way. He could think of it as putting the wendigo out of its misery, because it's bound in an endless cycle of starvation. The more it eats the more it needs to eat.

They find some remains in what would once have been the kitchen, which is disgustingly apt. Shriveled up skin and gelatinous fat. Blood. Some of the skin belongs to the wendigo, probably peeled off as it expanded. Stiles gags and Derek thumps him on the back, because he wants the noise to stop. Stiles glares up at him with moistened eyes.

"Remind me never to agree to come out with you in the dead of night again," he grouses, covering his mouth and nose.

"Have you seen anything that gives you any indication of where the wendigo has gone?"

"Not r..." Stiles says. He tails off and bends closer to the body. He looks like he's going to puke as he pries apart what would once have been a hand, and points at a flesh-covered ring. "Help me get this thing off," he says between racking wheezes.

Derek bends down, clasps his hand over Stiles' and helps pull. There's a crack and then a squelch, and the whole finger is coming off the corpse, bone protruding from the bottom. Derek holds onto it as Stiles catapults himself across the room and loses what sounds like every meal he's eaten in the last decade. Derek goes to the sink and eases off the ring, washes away the blood and gore. It's clunky costume jewellery; a large black oval masquerading as opal in the center of rhinestones. After several minutes, Stiles joins him. He's pale, clammy, but determined as he takes the ring and holds it up to the dim light cascading in from the cracked kitchen window. Derek feels a swell of something suspiciously like pride as he watches Stiles shake off his horror at the grotesque situation.

"I know the victim," Stiles says. "Maisy. She frequents the homeless shelter. Or, she used to, I guess. Do you think the wendigo would be smart enough to use the place as a grocer's? An all you can eat buffet?"

"Could be. That's what I'd do."

"Not young enough there for your tastes, surely?" Stiles retorts, but there's no heat to his words. Derek takes them in the spirit they were intended and growls menacingly, but makes no move to attack.

They go back outside, away from the sight and smell of the rotting corpse. Maisy. The sky is illuminated only by the crescent moon muffled by clouds. Otherwise, it's the kind of pitch black that only comes before dawn on a winter's day. Derek is fairly sure the wendigo would be back by now if it was planning on spending the day sleeping there. It must have another hideaway. He says this and Stiles agrees, pulling his jacket tighter.

"But only the one," he says, "because they're creatures of habit. All the literature says they like to settle down once they've found a prime feeding spot. They deplete the area of its resources and then move on. It's why they're associated with greed."

"So you recommend staking out this house and the homeless shelter?" Derek asks.

Stiles shrugs a shoulder. "Can't hurt. But it can't be now, because some of us have school in four short hours."

"Fine. I'll drive you back."

In the car, Derek turns up the heat. He says to himself it's because he's cold, but since he's not, he's lying again. Stiles stops shivering and seems to be having an internal debate before he finally speaks.

"Do you want me to ask Scott and Allison for help?"

"Not especially, but I get the feeling you're going to regardless."

Stiles speaks at speed, words tumbling over one another. "Allison can cover Scott while I cover you. That way both damsels in distress can be rescued should anything fail. I'll let you decide who they are. I think it could work. I mean, if you still don't wanna get your puppies involved."

"I don't like it."

"Of course you don't, because it isn't the worst plan ever invented and it requires you trusting someone other than yourself. You don't have to be a lone wolf all the time."

Derek scowls at the streetlights. "Okay. Since tonight hasn't exactly yielded the results I was hoping for, I suppose I'll have to settle for plan F."

"This wasn't a success in your view?" Stiles asks. There's a mocking note in his tone. "You did say we'd be hunting the wendigo. You never said anything about killing it."

Derek taps him on the shoulder. Judging by Stiles' wince and watering eyes, he may have tapped a little hard.

*

Stiles doesn't know how to start the conversation. Somehow he doesn't think, 'hey, Scott, guess who I spent the night with?' would be all that helpful. There's something within him that shamefully doesn't want to start the conversation and is cursing the rest of him for suggesting to drag Scott and Allison into wendigo-watch 2012. Something that wants to keep this time with Derek as a secret, locked away in the private part of his mind that spent years cataloging every time Lydia so much as glanced in his direction.

The problem is, Stiles has begun to find himself looking forward to being in Derek's vicinity. Derek's starting to seem almost human --- which Stiles is sure is probably an insult of the highest order, and if he said it out loud he'd get bitten so hard, in the 'death by wolf' kind of way, not the "are you trying to seduce me, Mr Hale?" kind of way. If not human, Derek does have flashes of personality. One that's kind of wry and slyly self-deprecating and painfully honest. And this appeals to Stiles' morbid curiosity and unhealthy fixation on all things Derek. Which he should have gotten over months ago. And still somehow hasn't.

Yeah, Stiles should have already brought up that he'd love Scott's help, since he needs it in about six hours, but he makes excuses every time he gets close. He also falls asleep in econ, English, and chemistry. Eventually, as they sit together in the locker room after a Lacrosse practice in which Stiles fell over in excess of nine times, and Stiles stifles yet another yawn, Scott demands to know what's going on and Stiles has no real recourse.

"You know Derek?" Stiles leads with, because he is nothing if not a master procrastinator.

"Unfortunately."

Stiles totally isn't compelled to defend Derek in any way. "Well, he needs help finding a wendigo and I was that help last night. I was hoping that you and Allison could be that help tonight."

Scott's look of confusion is as frustrating as it is endearing. "Why?"

"Wendigos eat humans and werewolves alike, gorging on their flesh, unable to quench their hunger, until finally there are no more humans or werewolves to eat. They're vicious and damn near unstoppable, and there's one in Beacon Hills. Also, because I asked."

Scott looks somewhat guilt-stricken. This has been a bone of contention between them, since Stiles finally snapped and finished a three paragraph rant on the many suckitudes of being Scott's best friend with, "I have helped you unquestioningly a thousand times, you don't think you could return the favor just once?" And, okay, so the rant had been inspired because Scott wouldn't give him his left over curly fries on the grounds he'd had one of them in his mouth and couldn't say for sure which it was. But the point had been driven home, Stiles thought. He hadn't kept his anger bottled for once. And maybe the extra Scott flavoring was the best thing ever, or perhaps it was just the taste of victory, but those curly fries were good.

"What do you need me to do?"

"Help me to convince Allison to bring her bow when we meet my place at nine?"

Scott smiles beguilingly at him. Stiles just knows he's thinking about spending the evening with Allison. "Okay," he says, dreamily. He scrunches up his face, next, as if a thought has just occurred to him. "I can't believe we're helping Derek. Again."

"Maybe next time he'll help us?"

"You don't really mean that," Scott says.

"I don't not mean it?"

Scott's expression becomes one of worry. "Has Derek done some kind of mind control thing on you?"

"No," Stiles says, scoffing maybe a little too obviously. A method actor he is not. He just knew who the hell Impey Barbicane was, he thinks. He valued my expertise and my opinion.

*

Allison is worryingly on board with the whole mission. Sometimes Stiles forgets that she comes from a family of hunters. She and Scott spend so much of their time acting like there isn't this huge fissure between them, Stiles falls under the delusion too. She starts to list off weaponry that would be useful and listens carefully to Stiles' description of the wendigo, like she's mentally tallying its strengths and weaknesses. She's as terrifying as she is hot, and Stiles is so not questioning his psyche right now that the scarier seems to be the better when it comes to raising his blood pressure.

"We're helping Derek?" she asks, frowning slightly.

"It's more about finding and killing a wendigo," Stiles justifies. "Which means there can be no kissyface going on tonight. I'm relying on both of you being on your game."

"I'm offended you'd feel the need to suggest such a thing," Scott says, not even looking at Stiles as he does so.

Stiles had initially suggested to Derek that maybe it would work better if they split the lovebirds up. Derek had silenced him with a glare, and surprisingly, whole sentences. There was no way he was going to work alongside Allison Argent. There was also no way he was going to leave the two ordinary humans to fend for themselves. No, not even if one of them has a razor-sharp tongue and the other a bow and exploding arrows.

"I won't let you down, Stiles," Allison adds seriously. A twinkle comes into her eye, belying the tone of her voice. "No kissyface going on. Not even a little."

Stiles blows away imaginary bangs, his eyelids drooping once more. Maybe he can have a nap for an hour or two when he gets home?

*

Derek stares at a sleeping Stiles and is thankful he's just irritated enough that he can restrain the wolf. Stiles looks small --- like something to be protected, and peaceful --- like something to be curled up next to. And they have a job to do, so he should stop that right this second. Derek takes the bottle of water by Stiles' bed and unscrews the lid, doesn't feel bad when he has it hovering in wait. Three drops fall onto Stiles' opened lips, and for a second, more, Stiles simply smacks his lips together. Derek tips the bottle and watches water cascade right over Stiles' face, rivulets sliding down his neck. Stiles awakens with a splutter and a lot of swearing.

"Holy shit, Derek," he yells.

"Get up," Derek returns.

Stiles looks completely murderous as he changes his shirt and pulls on a thick sweater. Derek should avert his eyes and doesn't, because he's surprised that Stiles isn't actually as scrawny as he's been assuming. He's more wiry, and maybe, if he's lucky, could be trained to fight if any time was put into it. Derek thinks about suggesting that. If they're going to work together, they might as well be the best they can be.

"Scott and Allison are already at the house," Derek says when Stiles looks down his street, clearly waiting.

Stiles hurriedly looks at his phone, mouth going wide and curling down as he realizes Derek allowed him twenty-five minutes rest before taking matters into his own hands.

They drive to the homeless shelter in uncomfortable silence. Stiles is radiating guilt and something else, something more like shame or disappointment. Derek has never had any skills with small talk. Half an hour goes by in the same silence, and then, finally, Stiles starts to speak. Derek isn't any good at tuning him out, doesn't especially want to be. Stiles doesn't complain about schoolwork this time. It's a very obvious avoidance. Instead, he explains about Lacrosse, and Derek doesn't tell him he knows all about the sport, that he used to play, even had a College scholarship in the pipelines that he was never going to take due to his unfair advantage, because Stiles would accuse him of 'over-sharing'. Stiles talks about pranks played on visiting teams, including one in which they successfully convinced their opponents they practiced using pineapples instead of balls.

Derek has to respond to that. "You cannot be serious. They fell for that?"

"Yeah, I have to agree, that was dumb. That was 'thinking everyone named Scott is Scottish' levels of stupid."

Derek finds himself giving what can only be described as an undignified snort, his teeth growing longer in his mouth, but Stiles hasn't seemed to notice. He hates that he wants to push this. He wishes hate was the same as anger.

"That was you, wasn't it?" his traitorous mouth says. "You believed that?"

"I was six! I have an excuse. Unlike Scott who I'm pretty sure still believes it."

Derek does laugh at this, the sound coming out as a low rumble. He can feel his hackles rising, his nose lengthening. The pain is mild, these days, which doesn't help even a little. Damn Stiles, who has finally taken notice, and does not look like he wants to be in a car with him right now. Or within the next millennium. Stiles has one hand on the door handle, the other on the dash.

"Look, I'm sorry, okay. I didn't know you were so fond. I love Scott, you know that, he's my best friend. If this is some kind of werewolf defense, then, please, turn it down to DEFCON 5, because I told my dad I'd be cooking dinner tomorrow and I don't like being a liar."

At 'I love Scott', Derek's anger slams welcomingly into place, which is not actually a good sign, when he comes to think about it. But it helps him wrest control of his transformation, and finally, he's glaring without baring his teeth, human-looking in the rear-view mirror once more. As human-looking as he ever gets.

Silence descends in the car once more. Stiles is jittery and Derek's trying really hard not to care. He's wondering, not for the first time, what would happen if he just admitted to Stiles what was going on. He could already imagine the conversation. There would be a lot of punctuation, hand-gestures, high-pitched whines, growls, and unfinished sentences. Stiles would be all horrified eyes and, later, when he realized Derek wasn't joking; mocking smiles. He'd take the information and use it as collateral, deep-seated betrayal effectively rendering the whole thing null and void. And Derek doesn't think he could handle that. Because the same horrible part of him that's giving him this hell in the first place doesn't want it to stop.

He knows he should. He has to have control. He has to stop enjoying Stiles so much, and this would be the best way to do that. Ammunition. But the horrible part of him is larger than the honorable one. Not a surprise, in human terms --- werewolf. It is a surprise to him. He wants control, but he doesn't want to sacrifice the small snatches of happiness he gets with Stiles to win it.

There's a part of Derek, even tinier than his honor, that insists that Stiles would grow to use the truth as something other than a weapon. That, in understanding Derek, he might actually learn to like him enough to want to spend time with him. That he would say or do things just to make Derek not miserable. And that this would be better than good. Derek doesn't listen to that part of himself.

"You know," Stiles says after a while, breaking into the frigid air between them. "You might want to stop buying hair product for a couple of weeks and purchase a sense of humor instead."

Derek has to dig his claws into his thigh to stop from going Alpha.

"Shut up, Stiles."

*

The wendigo doesn't show, not at the shelter, not at the house. Scott and Allison pledge more time to the cause, which is about the only win, in Stiles' book. Stiles guesses he should be pleased that he only has to deal with two supernatural beings, but actually it's anti-climactic. And while he's certainly feared for his life more than once, there's been no running, so he hasn't even gotten his daily work-out. Derek is weird dropping him off. Weirder. Derek is totally bizarre. Stiles mutters something about seeing him whenever --- 'which, knowing you, is in like ten minutes, tops,' and Derek's face does this thing. This twitchy, flexible thing Stiles' face sometimes feels like it's doing. Sort of ten expressions in one. They've been spending way too much time together. Then Derek gives an aborted wave and is driving off. When Stiles thinks about the emotions he saw --- and wow, emotions, from Derek, that sure is something to write home about; or would be if he wasn't already home --- he thinks there was actually something resembling a smile.

Chapter Text

Derek is willing to admit --- to himself and absolutely no one else ever, and even then only when it's five in the morning and he hasn't slept properly for a few days --- that he doesn't have all the answers when it comes to controlling his pack. He doesn't even have half the answers. He has no answers, at all. So it's humbling to think that Stiles might be right and he has to bring his pack into this. It's been five days. In all good conscience he has little choice. He knows that the wendigo hasn't stopped with Maisy so he needs to find its other hide-out. To do that he has to have reinforcements and he's sure as hell not going to ask any other Argents for help. He texts Boyd and Erica to meet him in a couple of hours. Resolves to wake Isaac up before then. He doesn't quite manage that second part, becoming engrossed in his book. Issac startles awake with Boyd's knocking at the door, scrubbing a hand over his face as Derek lets Boyd and Erica in.

"Why are they here?" Isaac asks, looking confused.

He's frustrating to live with. He eats all the best food and has never bought milk, using the months' old excuse of "I'm a fugitive", even though it hasn't been true for a while now. If Derek didn't have an obligation towards him, he would have told him to find his own place a long time ago. As it is, he's stuck making compromises. The main problem with this is that Isaac is a constant reminder that he doesn't know what he's doing. Isaac's spent his life dealing with his own demons and didn't really need Derek's to compound them. Derek had thought that the sense of belonging entailed in being a werewolf would help Isaac at his lowest, as it did for him, in the months when Laura left him to his own devices --- a Beta in a large city, no leader in sight. All it's seemed to do is make him blood-thirsty and power-drunk. He doesn't truly accept Derek's authority and hasn't totally caught onto the fact he's got to blend in with wider society in order to survive.

"Impromptu pack meeting," Derek explains, though he really just wants to bark, 'because I told them to be' and leave it at that.

"Is this something to do with where you've been going every night?" Isaac asks, accusation ringing in his tone. Technically, Betas aren't supposed to interrogate their Alpha, so Derek ignores him.

"He's been hanging out with Stiles Stilinski," Erica says, lounging on the threadbare couch they rescued from the dump.

"A+ for stalking, F for discretion," Derek dismisses. She wants him to react. He's not going to give her the satisfaction.

"I smell him on you," Erica corrects with a flick of her hair. She looks entirely too pleased with herself.

Erica and Isaac laugh, cartoon villainesque. Boyd is the only one who stares calmly, awaiting his instructions.

"Have any of you heard of wendigos?" Derek asks. When they all shake their heads, Derek forges on. "Well, Stiles has, which is why we've been hanging out. There's a wendigo in the area and it's possible it's gathering resources in order to attack."

Derek isn't positive that the wendigo has even registered that there are werewolves in Beacon Hills. It's been keeping a pretty low profile. But his 'puppies', as Stiles calls them, aren't yet at the stage where they understand there's a certain level of duty attached with being superhuman, and making this personally relevant is the best way to insure their co-operation.

"What do you want us to do?" Boyd asks.

"You're going to help me track it," Derek replies. "But first, I'll tell you what I already know."

Derek goes to retrieve the two-page summary Stiles made. It's the easiest way to give them the necessary information about their foe, being well-organized and concise. Derek reads aloud, pausing to interject any new details where he sees fit. Isaac continually attempts to interrupt, until Derek deliberately shifts and snaps at him.

"This is not a game," Derek shouts, adding a growling undertone to his words. Isaac looks suitably chastised, shrinking back against the wall. "You will listen to what I have to say. You will follow my instructions. Do I make myself clear?"

Isaac whispers, flattening himself more, until he's practically one with the chipped paintwork. "Yes."

Knowing Isaac's history, Derek doesn't push it any further. He used to, in the beginning, but he soon came to see that trying to exert that kind of force over Isaac only made him retaliate. Considering that's what it was like between him and Laura, Derek understands. He wants to know how to get Isaac to respect him without hating and fearing him. It started with bribery --- new clothes, loaning his car, letting him stay. But that's not enough. Isaac challenges him every chance he gets. Now, he feels like he has to resort to the occasional scare tactic, conducted within carefully demarcated limits. That's not enough, either, not in the long-term.

"I've discovered one of the houses I think the wendigo is using to hide during the day. I think there's another. Your task is to find it. We're gonna hone your tracking skills. You will not, under any circumstances, attack or engage. It's a recon mission only." Derek glowers at his pack, hoping he's as authoritative as possible. "Most importantly, you stay together."

Derek drives them to the house, teaches them how to distinguish between scents. Isaac is mercifully silent, but Erica, who cannot take a hint, goads Derek at every opportunity. Derek doesn't know how much more he can stand. He gives them the list of potential wendigo dens in Beacon Hills, insists they check in with him on the hour, every hour.

And then he does something he probably shouldn't do, unable to ignore the voice in his head insisting it's been a hell of a day and he needs this.

*

Though the same can't be said for Scott or Allison, Stiles manfully resists falling asleep during all his morning classes. Therefore, he knows he's not dreaming when he receives a text telling him to go to the old weights room as soon as school's out. He spends the rest of the day unable to concentrate thanks to nervous tension as well as fatigue, which makes a nice change from restlessness and boredom. Stiles has never really been one for self-preservation, so he does as he's instructed, telling Scott he has a thing --- a studying thing! --- for English, which is a class they don't share.

The old weights room is a dark basement area leading off from the main building. It was used from the 60s to the 90s as a retreat for the jocks to take steroids and pump up, before the Government realized it was a travesty and gave Beacon Hills High money for a new gym/pool facility. Since that time, it'd been used as a storeroom, but had very recently been earmarked to go under refurbishment as somewhere else the seniors could go to lord it over everyone. It's the kind of place that would be easy to associate with a phantom. The phantom of the treadmills! And so, Stiles thinks, it's actually pretty perfect for Derek to choose as a meeting spot. If, indeed, it's Derek who told him to come.

Stiles leans against the dank wall, musing that they did a good job clearing the room out, wondering if he's late or too early. It's been whole minutes since the bell went. Almost an entire five. He hears footsteps, finally, and, because he really never has been one for keeping safe, calls out, "I hope that's you, Derek, and not some tech-savvy wendigo."

Derek steps into his field of vision, grimaces (or is that more of a smile?), says, simply, "it's me."

He's wearing a black T-shirt that is indecently tight and Stiles' heart is in his throat. It's blocking off his airways, making him feel like he wants to gag, and how is this his life? There is a hot werewolf in a black T-shirt, who is not his adorkable best friend, standing in front of him casually. Like they know each other. Like this is a thing they do.

He nods, trying to dislodge his traitorous, treacherous heart. He's worried he sounds obviously squeaky when he asks, "Why have you called me here?"

"I was looking at you last night and it got me thinking..." Derek pauses. He seems to wait. Stiles gestures for him to continue, because he's dying with curiosity now. "What? No crack about the prospect of me thinking being dangerous?"

Stiles shrugs his shoulders and lies. "There are occasions, few and far between though they are, that I value my life."

Derek's lips curl down, as if to say 'okay then, I don't believe you, but I'll accept that.'

"I was thinking that I don't like the idea of going out there searching for a wendigo with you not even knowing how to throw a punch."

Okay. That makes sense. That is putting some order into the chaos that is his existence.

Stiles splutters, Stiles points. He totally doesn't almost fall over in his indignation. "I know how to throw a punch."

"Oh, really? Show me what you've got."

His dad taught him how to throw a punch. What he never really did was teach him how to make it connect. Definitely didn't teach him how to do so when his whole world had tipped upside-down and he couldn't think properly. He steps closer to Derek, readies himself, goes for a right hook and finds himself shoved against the wall, his arm bent at an unnatural angle and something in his back screaming in protest.

"Fucking ow, Derek. Please to be remembering that if you break me, I'm not gonna insta-heal."

"I told you," Derek says and his voice is victorious, but strangely not menacing.

He lets Stiles move, rubs his hand down his back, along the nubs of his spine, fingers calculated and sure, and Stiles doesn't think it'd be a good thing if he collapsed at his feet like he so desperately wants to. He locks his knees and stills, only spins around when he doesn't think he'll puke from combined terror and exhilaration.

"You have some muscle on you," Derek says, as if he's surprised by the revelation, which Stiles is frankly insulted by. Or would be, if he could feel anything other than numb at this current moment in time. "You could be a decent fighter if you put any time into it."

"What if I don't want to be?" Stiles counters, mouth moving before his brain can stop it. His eyebrows follow, flicking up suggestively, and seriously, what is with his disloyal body? "Some of us are lovers."

"I invite you to try loving the wendigo and see where that gets you," Derek says smoothly. "No. I'm going to give you some basic fighting instruction that even a moron could follow. At least that way if the wendigo gets close to you, you can distract it long enough you'll only lose one limb before you're rescued."

"High expectations, there."

"I work with what I'm given."

Stiles is not going to say, 'Boy, can I see that.' Not at all. He gabbles some nonsense about needing to get his water bottle from his bag, turns to face away from Derek so he can get his mind and body in order, and prays to a deity he doesn't believe in that he makes it out of this afternoon alive.

*

His motivations may be slightly suspect, but his intentions aren't. Derek spends forty minutes showing Stiles how to balance his center and punch with maximum efficiency of movement. He guides him in formation, sometimes needing to wrangle him into place, which garners him a defiant stare or ten. Sometimes, it works. Stiles is a quick study, and surprisingly, despite protestations, he puts effort into it. He actually manages to punch Derek, twice, both times when he wasn't paying attention, but, still, he does. Derek thinks that with several training sessions, he could seriously improve.

The weird thing is that Derek doesn't feel close to shifting, not once. He thinks it's because, despite feeling something other than anger, he's also coursing with adrenaline. It's the one solution to his continual internal debate he's found so far. A suggestion to continue this even after they kill the wendigo is on the tip of his tongue. It's always chased away by yet another baleful glare or grunt in his direction.

They spar. Derek makes Stiles try right hooks and left hooks, time and again, until he's red in the face and puffing with the exertion from it, and he thinks it's going well until Stiles collapses against the wall and lets out a heaving rasp.

"You know what? I get it. I'm surrounded by people who are faster, stronger, smarter, and more talented than me. I'm never going to be amazing. I'm the Zeppo! The obsolete, superfluous one."

Derek snorts and drags Stiles up from the wall, arranging him so that he's standing correctly for another left hook. Stiles makes him carry his weight, so they're tight against one another, all slick, sinewy muscle, and he notes that Stiles has been sweating a hell of a lot more than he has. Stiles' too large shirt has slipped to the side, the better part of his shoulder exposed to the chill air. Moisture gathers in the divot between his collarbones, along his neck. It smells salty-sweet, strong enough it could be a taste. Derek takes a deep, shuddering breath in time with Stiles, steps away from the trunk of his warm, wet body.

"Is this a Buffy or a Marx Brothers reference?"

Stiles frowns, letting out a small whine. "It's both." He double-takes, comically, coming more alive with each passing second. "You've actually watched Buffy?"

Derek doesn't say 'I think the more pointed observation is that you have.' It's way before Stiles' time and yet this is at least the second reference he's made. Derek only watched it because of Laura, because she went through a period where she didn't want to deal with reality and something approximating it was better than sleeping all day. He comes to a startling realization that in Stiles' eyes, watching Buffy was probably research. Time to dispel that little myth.

Derek spreads his hands out. "And Angel. Freakylinks. True Blood. Vampire Diaries. Lost Girl. Supernatural. It amuses me to see how much they get wrong."

Stiles goes through the motions of a left hook, but he loses momentum halfway through, ending up closer to dropping like a sack of potatoes. His jeans have slipped down a couple of inches, pale skin on show, and he hitches them up, embarrassed. He sucks air like he's grappling for oxygen, obviously in pain. Derek almost feels bad for him. But not enough to call the session quits.

"What if they don't? Get it wrong?"

"They invariably have twenty and twenty-seven-year-olds playing teenagers, Stiles. They always get it wrong." Derek quirks an eyebrow as he helps him straighten up. He squeezes his biceps to ward off cramps. "I don't think you're the Zeppo, by the way. In my view, you're perfectly fluous."

Stiles' mouth falls open and Derek nearly chucks him under the chin. He doesn't, because that would be over-familiar and ten different kinds of condescending. And they're already pressed up close together, close enough that he can feel every thrum of Stiles' pulse, there has to be some kind of boundary.

"Thanks," Stiles says, and it's genuine, heart-felt.

Derek pushes away, raises his fists for another sparring session, not knowing what else to say or do. Another ten minutes goes by. Stiles gets less and less coordinated as they circle around one another, feet stumbling as opposed to staying nimble. Derek calls for a break and Stiles chugs down water like it's manna from heaven. The taut line of his throat ripples as he tilts his head back for more. Derek becomes preoccupied with counting each swallow, mentally tracking each bob of his Adam's apple.

"Your concentration has gone," he observes, not sure which of them he's speaking to. "You need to focus."

"Sorry," Stiles murmurs, mid-gulp. "I'm still trying to wrap my head around you, Derek Hale, slobbing on a couch catching up on teen drama."

Derek widens his eyes to convey his wonderment at Stiles' stupidity. "The amazing thing about television is that you can watch it while doing other things, like working out."

"Why would you need to work out?" Stiles asks, sounding confused. He waves his hands toward Derek's body. "Doesn't all that just come naturally?"

"You still need to study, don't you? Even though you're naturally a giant nerd?"

"Hey! I resent that," Stiles squawks. "I'm a geek at best, a goof at worst. I'm not a nerd."

"If that's what you say, poindexter," Derek retorts with something that feels suspiciously like a smile.

He still isn't shifting. By now, feeling as he does, he ordinarily would have. This is revelatory. Perhaps he's been around Stiles long enough now he's developed an immunity? Maybe his inner beast has finally gotten used to emotions other than pain, hate and anger? This can only be an advantage. The greater control he has, the more he can do. The more he can annoy Stiles without worrying he's going to lose his head.

"I can't fathom you out," Stiles says, weirdly serious for a second, before his usual demeanor kicks into place. "One second you're all pod-like and personable, the next you're the Derek we've all come to know and resent."

"I like to keep you on your toes," Derek says with a shrug. He goes close to Stiles and manhandles him into place, and if his hands linger, it's only because he's afraid Stiles will lose balance and face-plant into the concrete. "Which is precisely how you should be standing in this next series of drills."

*

When Stiles gets home he has a long shower. A long, cold shower. With extra cold. He splays his hands against the tiles and lets water cascade down his back, dripping to the floor warmed by his fever-heated skin. There's some discomfited, self-conscious touching that he does not spare a second thought to.

If you had told him, five months ago, that he'd be spending the afternoon learning how to box with Derek Hale, he would have said, 'you mean I'd be learning how to get mutilated and shoved into boxes, right? Right? Because you couldn't possibly mean anything else.' Stiles has so many questions; of Derek, but also of himself. Like how he didn't melt into a puddle of goo the first time Derek laid hands on him. Or how he didn't faint when Derek smiled at him. Or when this all happened, exactly, because last he checked, he did not like Derek. He barely tolerated him. He saved him only when necessary, and even then, only because deep down he's a big old softie pacifist.

Stiles sleeps. Or, rather, he power naps in twenty minute blocks over the span of four hours. He Skyrims. He gets a new armor mod. He fritters away time on Facebook. And tumblr. And TVTropes. He watches the clock on his laptop obsessively and curses the relativity of time.

Stiles spends ten minutes picking out what to wear, because his dad has made him painfully aware he's lacking in fashion sense. He goes for dark clothes, because of the nature of the task. But not as loose as he usually wears. For reasons. He calls Scott and Allison, who are conveniently and utterly unsurprisingly together. The plan is once again for them to stake out the house as he and Derek run surveillance on the homeless shelter. Derek's pack are still searching for the secondary cubbyhole. Derek texted him to say they thought they were close, and Stiles absolutely did not stare at the text for three minutes, lips so dry he had to keep licking them.

He's twitchy when Derek picks him up. He can't help but brush his palms against his thighs and click his tongue against the roof of his mouth. He's always been a fidget. Derek is as calm as usual, maybe even slightly more subdued, by recent standards. He isn't as talkative as he has been, staring off into the middle distance. He could be listening, or sniffing. He doesn't appear to be overly focused on the wonder that is Stiles.

Oh God, Stiles thinks. What if he can sense my burgeoning attraction?

Then he wrinkles his nose up at his own internal monologue. First of all; ew with the burgeoning. Second; attraction? Honestly? Third; uh, yes, Stiles, you've never been this clueless before, get with the program.

Hours go by. Slowly. Stiles taps out various rhythms on the dash. Derek eyes him, one eyebrow raised.

"It's the thrill of the chase," Stiles explains. "Aren't you excited?"

"No," Derek says. "It's almost dawn and there's been no wendigo in sight." He looks like he's about to say more, but then his phone buzzes.

Stiles goes silent as he listens to Derek's side of the conversation. From what he can hear, the pack have succeeded in their mission. The wendigo isn't at the house they've found, but it's definitely been there in the last twenty-four hours. Derek sounds proud, expression going soft and pleased. It's a good look on him. When he gets off the phone, though, he sobers up. He becomes determined.

"They've found the other house. Now we can corner it. During the daytime. We'll contain it. And I'll kill it."

Stiles jumps in his seat, incredulous. "Why wait? Why not go for it now?"

"It's too late. The wendigo must be traveling back to one of its houses as we speak. It's probably at peak strength. There isn't enough preparation time."

"How much preparation do you need? You have instant weaponry at your disposal."

"Did you genuinely think I was just going to attack the gigantic emaciated flesh-eating monster? Just rush in there and magically eviscerate it?"

"What're you gonna do if I say yes, yes I really did? Rearrange my face?"

"Is that a fancy Stiles way of saying bite it off, because maybe."

Stiles pretends to be affronted. "You threaten to eat me, and you wonder why I don't automatically leap to the conclusion that you have plans that don't involve a lot of snappy, snappy?"

"I didn't threaten to eat the whole of you. Just that chunk there," Derek says, waving his hand toward Stiles' nose.

And then Stiles loses it. He can't contain his full-bodied belly laugh, all sniggering and moistened eyes. He's the least elegant he has ever been, chest heaving with the power of it. It's a combination of nervous tension and utter joy and he has never felt this way before, like the world is spiraling in the best way and he's giddy from the ride.

He stops when Derek makes a strangled growling sound. There's a noise like bones cracking, and muffled grunts, and Stiles watches, frozen, totally bewildered as Derek changes before his very eyes. He's seen this before, of course he has. Not with Derek. Not this intense. He looks like a rabid animal --- wild and feral --- not quite frothing at the mouth, but close. It's like a horror movie scene in slo-mo. It doesn't look real at all, but Stiles knows it is, it has to be. Those convulsions couldn't be faked.

"Get out," Derek howls, eyes swimming blood red.

"No," Stiles says. He shakes his head, because twenty seconds before, Derek was laughing along with him, there is no way he imagined that. "I don't know what I've done, but, no, Derek. I'm not leaving you like this."

He tentatively reaches out his hand and brushes it down Derek's back, stroking along the nubs of his spine. His skin at the top of his neck has gone paper thin, his hair is thickening. Derek shudders beneath him, arching up and down like there's a war going on inside his body. And there is. There clearly is. His nose keeps lengthening and going back to normal. His teeth grow and retract. There's another howl, another soul-rending crunch, and Derek's claws are tearing into the upholstery above their heads. He bashes against his seat as if he's trying to knock himself out.

And then it stops. He stops. He shivers all over and resumes human-form. Derek slumps in his seat, jolting once, twice. His skin is covered in goose-pimples and his hands are shaking, violently.

"What did I do to make you mad?" Stiles asks, because he is lost.

"You didn't go," Derek yells, too loud for the confined space. "You have to stop being so Stiles all the time." He drags in air. Blood slides down his chin from where he bit into his lip. The cut has healed, but the blood remains.

"I can't. It's kind of an occupational hazard," Stiles says in a small voice. He frowns. None of this is making any sense and he hates that, hates not knowing what's going on. But one thing is obvious to him --- Derek didn't want this to happen, this was not a circumstance of choice. "You're not angry with me, are you? Do you have some kind of werewolf flu or something? A bug that's making you transform against your will?"

"A bug?" Derek says, half-laughing, half-snarling. "It's you. You're my disease."

Stiles rears back as if he's been slapped. His face stings from the imaginary assault. He ignores Derek as he says his name, doesn't notice anything except his need to escape, high-tail it out of there, be free. He wrestles with the door handle, flings himself out the car, does not care even a little that he might be chewed on by a wendigo in downtown Beacon Hills.

And, wow. Is apoplectic the word? Because Stiles needs something large and unwieldy to describe this emotion. A disease. There he'd been, like some kind of idiot, thinking he'd been developing some sort of awkward friendship with Derek and all the while --- a disease! There he was, thinking they were sharing a victory, but no, no sharing. Stiles is nothing more to Derek than some disgusting sickness, corrupting him body and soul.

And the worst part, the part that makes his guts ache and his head rattle as he marches home, one torturous step at a time, is that it hurts, so bad.

Chapter Text

He can’t sleep. He thinks he deserves sleep, that it would be suitable recompense for the shitasticness that is his life. But, no. No sleep for Stiles. Endless mocking accusatory head-voices for Stiles, telling him he was a damn fool for ever thinking the elusive Derek Hale would ever be remotely interested in not thinking he’s anything other than a malignance. Stiles buries his head under his pillow, trying to drown out the constant litany of ‘you’re not good enough, you will never be good enough, why do you even want to be good enough for someone like Derek?’ But it’s difficult to block out a sound that’s reverberating in your own head.

It doesn’t matter how many times he tells himself he’s overreacting, that he wouldn’t have cared a couple of months, hell, a week ago, that, no, really, this is not the end of the world. Some guy doesn’t like him. There are other guys. There are other girls. He is young, the whole of his life is before him. None of it works. Because knowing that his pain is inconsequential compared to others’ does nothing to alleviate the fact it’s his pain, that he is feeling right this second, stabbing into him with every scrunch of his eyes.

He buries himself under the covers and does not cry. Not a single, twinkling tear down the center of his cheek. Not a blubber, not a sob. He just wallows. He throws his phone across the room when it dares to chime that it’s time to get up for school, because he has decided that today is Stiles-day! A day to celebrate everything Stiles loves! For him and him alone! No school required! And there is absolutely no connection with anything else going on in his life, because that would be preposterous.

At quarter to eight, his dad seems to realize it’s Stiles-day, but hasn’t yet seen the memo which forbids him from nixing it. He stands at the door, telling him he’s late.

“You can’t be late for a day of lying in bed, Dad,” Stiles says. He tacks on a fake cough. He’s a little shameless like that. Shameless and smart, because there is no way his dad is letting him stay home unless he thinks he’s contracted the bubonic plague.

“You’re feeling sick, kiddo?”

“What’s the opposite of peachy keen? Moldily reluctant?”

His dad comes into the room, stands by the bed, strokes his hand over his forehead, and, yeah, okay, they’re doing this, his Dad is checking his temperature, because he does not trust his son. Granted, he currently has no good reason to trust his son, and he’s the Sheriff, so he’s naturally suspicious anyway. But, still. It cuts, deep to the bone. Stiles doesn’t squirm as his father stares at him. He wriggles some, because the thumb over his brow tickles.

There’s an ‘hmm’, and then, “Oh, yeah, I can feel you’re burning up. You want me to get the I Love Lucy DVDs from downstairs?”

Stiles has never loved his dad so much in his entire life.

“That would be great, Dad, thank you.”

“I have to go into work soon, but I’ll dig out any cans of soup and put them on the counter for you.”

Stiles frowns to himself when he thinks about how many hours his dad’s been putting in. Three straight late nights and going in early? That’s not typical. He hasn’t been that busy since the time that former resident of Beacon Hills was thought to be a psychopathic killer who’d murdered his own sister. That guy. The scary one. Who, yes, was innocent. But the very fact he’d been suspected in the first place? Not a good sign.

“Big case?”

“Nothing to worry your flu-added head about, Stiles. And I mean that, with every fiber of my being. You stay here, sleep. I’ll ask Scott to pick up any homework for you and bring it round this afternoon.”

“You don’t have to do that, that’s way too kind, it’s going out of your way. Really!”

“I’ll always go out for my way for you, you know that.”

Stiles scratches near his ear and withstands a kiss to his forehead, closing his eyes so that the glistening in them doesn’t have to be explained away.

*

Derek can’t drink. Well, he can, but it doesn’t do anything for him. Drinking doesn’t help him black out, or lift his inhibitions, or blot out past mistakes. This isn’t the first time he’s wished it could. Intellectually, logically, he knows it’s for the best that Stiles has been pushed away for good. If Stiles is the kind of fool to stay inside a car with an uncontrollably shifting werewolf, it’s in both their interests to sever their already tenuous connection.

He followed Stiles home last night because he doesn’t want the kid to get eaten, not because he wanted to speed up, spin him around, say everything that’s been held inside for too long. Not because he wanted to apologize and explain. Not because, no matter how hard he tries, he can’t keep away, heart tangled up in knots with how Stiles makes him feel.

It’s a bitter, dull ache, today. It’s cruel that he should have had a few hours under the delusion that he doesn’t have to spend the rest of his life wrathful and alone. He’s been working on not letting his aggression out on his pack. He’s mostly succeeded. He deliberately extended his claws and sliced the empty milk carton in two, but at least the victim of his rage was cardboard and not Isaac. That’s a win, in his book.

“I’m still not understanding why the plan’s changed?” Erica says, legs slung up over the armrest of the couch, blonde hair fanned against the cushions.

“Maybe you don’t have to understand?” Boyd says quietly, and Derek tips his head at him.

“Our alliance with Team Stilinski has gone up in smoke,” Isaac contributes, staring Derek down in unofficial challenge. “What happened, Derek? Did he take back your side of the Best Friends Forever locket?”

Derek squares his shoulders. Isaac has an agenda in provoking him and he will not bow down to the pressure. No matter how tempting it is to rip that smarmy smirk off his stupid teenaged face.

“I came to see that Team Stilinski was a liability. You’ve had a close run-in with the Sheriff. Did you really want him on your case again when his child got split in two and devoured?”

“Depends who was doing the devouring.”

Derek could tear Isaac’s intestines up through his abdomen and out of his body in two and a half seconds. He could push his thumbs into his eye sockets and blind him in one and a half. He could flay every inch of his skin in no time at all.

He doesn’t do any of these things. He doesn’t even bare his teeth.

No one ever told Derek the problems entailed in recruiting members into your pack. How to vet potential pack members and decide on who was suitable. No one ever thought he’d be an Alpha. He spends a great deal of his time wishing they had.

“I’m Team Derek,” Boyd interjects, clearly trying to diffuse the tension in the room. He smiles; small and conciliatory.

His efforts are thwarted by Erica, who retorts with, “Team Derek, Boyd? Really? I’ll make you a shirt.”

Derek hates his life.

*

Skyrim is supposed to continue to be exciting once you’ve finished the main quest, and usually he might think it is. He normally enjoys riding from his home in Markarth to the one in Riften, collecting ingredients along the way, ducking into abandoned dwemer ruins and shouting Fus Ro Dah at falmer left, right and center. But maybe it’s because he’s worried about his dad. Or perhaps it’s because the falmer are grotesque and sickly looking, much like the description of wendigos. Stiles can’t concentrate. He never appreciated how long the school day is when sleep is not an option and he isn’t being forced to listen to teachers drone on about the importance of learning stuff he already knew three years ago.

He keeps wondering how the wendigo is going to be defeated. Will Scott and Allison help Derek? Stiles hasn’t been answering Scott’s increasingly worried texts. Every time his fingers brush over the screen he thinks about another text he received and he can’t. He just can’t.

It isn’t very surprising when Scott drops in on him, not only because his dad said he would, but because Scott has a long history of being there for him even when Stiles doesn't really want him to be.

Scott takes one look at him and collapses, cross-legged onto his bed. “Okay, spill.”

“I don’t want to.”

“This isn’t a request, it’s a demand.”

Stiles narrows his eyes. This is the straw. This is the straw that broke his back and left him cracked for all the world to see. “Where do you werewolves get off thinking you can order us mere mortals around, huh? Just what makes you so fucking special?”

Stiles stands, fists clenched, and Scott actually looks a little intimidated, which is refreshing.

“What did Derek do to you?”

“He didn’t do anything. I’m just sick of being made to feel inferior because I don’t turn into a huge savage ragedouche every time the moon’s a circle in the sky, or I’m filled with angst, or I’m around a completely harmless but effortlessly witty teenager. All right?”

Scott moves, brackets him with his hands, and God, Stiles can take about anything, but pity’s always been something he can’t stand.

“Derek isn’t worth your anger,” Scott says. He looks at a loss for what to do.

“I know!” Stiles replies. Those tears he can feel prickling at the back of his eyes? They are not going to fall. Because he is better than that. Because it’s too embarrassing. Because, even though, rationally, he knows it’s out-dated and facile, he subscribes to the theory ‘real men don’t cry’. “Why do you think I’m so angry?”

Of course, there’s a voice in his head that wants to say that the Derek he thought he was getting to know is absolutely worth this much anger. That they understood and believed in one another in a way people rarely understand and believe in him. That he’s this mad for the loss of that, for the tearing down of potential, as much as anything else. It isn’t simply wounded pride, it’s bereavement over what could have been a wonderful future.

“Did he contact you?” Stiles asks. He has been wondering all day, he might as well cut to the chase.

“No. Was he meant to?”

“I would have thought so.”

Scott lets him go and gives a helpless roll of his shoulders. “I don’t think Derek wants any of our help. None of the pack were at school today either.”

“Right. Makes sense. I’m sure we’ll hear about the wendigo’s slaughter at some point, maybe, in the next century.”

Scott looks concerned again. “Do you mean the wendigo being slaughtered, or it slaughtering people?”

“I don’t even know.” Stiles falls onto his bed and drags his knees up to his chest. He gestures at his screen. “You wanna watch the episode Lucy demands Ricky shave off his mustache?”

Scott’s smile is infectious and he doesn’t ask Stiles any more questions, which Stiles used to think was his fatal flaw, but he now decides is Scott’s best feature. “Dude. I’ll go get the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups I stashed in my bag.”

“And this is why I love you.”

*

Running down the street, Derek is wholly focused on chasing down the wendigo. The thing isn’t that fast. If it hadn’t had such a head start, he thinks he would have caught up with it by now, but he was about a mile away when he saw it and it was already on the move. It’s massive and it keeps shedding desiccated skin all over the sidewalk, which makes it easy to track. Derek wonders why it’s taken so long to find it. The scent it’s giving off is similarly strong in his nose --- too strong, he wants to vomit. Can’t spare the time to do so. Could barely text his pack to meet him. Derek doesn’t know if the wendigo is aware he’s after it. It hasn’t made any indications. There were varying reports as to the base intelligence levels of wendigos in the 50 page information kit Stiles assembled. Maybe the thing’s not that bright? He hopes the thing’s not that bright.

He shifts, wanting the extra power it’ll give him. His strides lengthen, his muscles stop aching. He can push harder, stronger. When he’s fixated like this, it’s always easy to be command of his senses. The dedication to finally ridding Beacon Hills of a threat that has been picking off its citizens one by one aids him in keeping his resolve. His human mind still maintains influence, can manipulate his powers into doing what he wants, when he wants. He doesn’t suddenly get the urge to feed or mate or bite unsuspecting innocents to join his pack. But since he became the Alpha, there have been times he’s shifted involuntarily. He hasn’t had this kind of focus and he’s awoken in the woods covered in blood, no memory of his actions. He doesn’t yet know what the trick is, how to maintain absolute control. It eats away at him, inside.

He senses Boyd and Erica at his back, finally. But only Boyd and Erica. Derek swivels his head around to double check. It’s possible Isaac masked his scent in pursuit of their foe. But, no, he’s not there. When he turns back around, the wendigo is no longer in sight. Derek pricks his ears up, takes a deep breath. There is nothing.

He comes to the end of the trail of skin, shifts back to his human state, crumples against the nearest wall.

“Did you see it?” he asks Boyd when he catches up, chest tight and heaving.

“Didn’t see where it went,” Boyd returns.

Derek casts a look at Erica, but she shakes her head. He senses her concern.

“Where’s Isaac?”

“He said he was going to cut it off from the other side,” Erica says.

“He what?” Derek thunders.

That explains it. That’s why the wendigo went back into hiding. It must have seen the imbecile that is his most annoying pack member.

Sure enough, when Isaac comes into view, he’s panting from over-exertion and babbling about seeing the wendigo head-on.

“You don’t change the plan,” Derek says, biting back a snarl. “Not halfway through.”

Isaac isn’t even a little remorseful.“Why not? You did!”

“I’m the Alpha! Can’t you get that through your thick skull? I’m in charge. You answer to me, not the other way around. If I’ve detailed a plan you fucking follow it. You’ve ruined everything.”

Derek roars. He can’t help himself. It’s voluntary, but necessary. He roars and he stalks away from his pack, leaving them to fend for themselves. If he has to, he will hunt the wendigo down and kill it by himself. Or he will die trying.

*

Stiles sleeps. It could be some kind of Christmas miracle. Or it could be the Nyquil. Either way, he successfully attains seven whole hours of shut-eye. When he arises in the morning, though, he really wishes he’d been awake. His dad is sitting at the kitchen table, head bowed. He looks older than his years, exhausted.

“How are you feeling, Son?”

“I’m feeling a bit better, thanks. More importantly, how are you? You look kind of bedraggled and depressed.”

“Knowing you, you’ll find out about this anyway, so I might as well tell you.”

Stiles feels a cold, solid ball of disquiet form in his gut. “Tell me what?”

“Three people were attacked last night down by the homeless shelter. One’s dead, two are in critical condition. Homeless people have been going missing for the last couple of weeks and I haven’t been able to find out why.”

“Oh God, that’s horrible.” Stiles falters, settling a hand on the table. “Any… anyone we know?”

“No. Or, maybe. Did you know Bagpipe Charlie?”

Stiles shakes his head, is slightly disturbed by the relief he has swelling inside. “Not intimately.”

“No. Well. Not having any personal attachment doesn’t stop this from being a horrendous case. The worst part is that the wounds look like they were inflicted by a human. Most of the wounds are teethmarks.”

Stiles gives what he knows is the appropriate response. “That is completely disgusting.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Want me to take another day off school? Help out with the paperwork?”

“You already know the answer to that question. Scoot, Stiles. I gave you a day of grace, but now I expect your nose back at the grindstone.”

Stiles showers and dresses as quickly as he can. He wants to get to school early, because he has an idea brewing at the back of his mind. Derek and his pack were unable to get the wendigo. It’s still a threat to wider society. But not for long. He, Stiles Stilinski, is going to stop it. Kill it. Succeed. It’s not about proving himself worthy of an affection he shouldn’t want. It’s about finishing what he started. Stiles is not a quitter. Or, at least, he quits only when it’s an absolute last resort. Or if he’s too lazy to go into Godmode. Or if he takes one look at his dad and thinks “no, I do not wish to die today.” This doesn’t comply with any of those situations, so Stiles is not quitting on this.

He really needs to go find Lydia.

*

Derek does not find the wendigo. Really, at this point, he likens it to Waiting for Godot. He’s almost convinced the damn thing doesn’t actually exist and is simply a manifestation of his existential crises. He swings by both houses and it’s not there. It was there. (The potential hallucination was there.) There’s a tacky, gooey substance that looks like it came from leaking wounds and mounds of drying flesh. But unless the wendigo has the same powers as a chameleon, or can turn invisible at will, it’s somewhere else.

That theory about it being a creature of habit was clearly flawed. By the time night falls, all Derek can think is if he wants to find the wendigo, he has to be the wendigo. He’s having to resort to hackneyed clichés. He stalks the homeless shelter, on foot this time, senses on high alert. There is the stench of blood in the air, but it’s human. Makes him think there might have been an attack. Is the wendigo likely to return soon?

He’s totally alone in the world once again. He’s rejected his pack and he frankly doesn’t want to see any of their faces in the near future. Not even Boyd, who he unjustly accuses for not stopping Isaac from wrecking a solid chance of victory. He knows it’s unjust. Can’t stop thinking it. What Derek wants, what he really wants, is to go find Stiles and make everything right between them. He’s given up on protecting the good streets of Beacon Hills. He’s perfectly willing to let some other gung-ho superhero steal his glory. It’s been a truly terrible week.

At first, he thinks it was because he was thinking of Stiles that he can smell him. That’s happened before. But then the scent gets far too strong and Derek knows he’s in the area. What was that about gung-ho superheroes? Stiles is precisely reckless enough to endanger himself in this way.

Derek goes in search of him. He travels down one street, then another, tilts his head to the side to see if he can hear Stiles speaking. He can’t. He speeds up his movements, not knowing why he suddenly has a sense of urgency, but not warring with his instincts. He had this same kind of fear pooling at the base of his spine when Laura didn’t call, all those months ago. He still wakes up screaming her name.

Derek begins to sprint down the road, lowering his head to become more aerodynamic, pumping his legs and arms in a set, continuous rhythm. When he rounds the corner and sees Stiles in the center of the wide-set alleyway, he stops abruptly. Stiles is standing there. Still. Making popping noises with his mouth as he taps out a rhythm against his jeans. He’s staring up at the sky, looking for all the world like he’s having a refreshing sojourn in the night air.

And the wendigo is lumbering toward him from the other side of the alley, skeletal face etched in sharp relief from the glare of the nearest streetlight.

He acts without thinking. Before the wendigo can take another step, Derek is vaulting forward and launching himself at the trunk of Stiles’ body, slamming him into the ground. There’s a clap, then a sizzle, and swiftly, twin walls of fire rise up from the ground, enveloping the area Stiles was standing. It blazes, blue and orange flames licking high into the air, black smoke blanketing the alley.

The wendigo utters a low wail from near their heads, not as deterred as he thinks it should be, the noise too much like a battle-cry. Derek screams at it with all his strength, baring his fangs and making his message clear. If you touch us, you die. Immediately. It slinks away, faster than it was before, fast enough that he’d have to go after it now if he had any hopes of catching it. He’s not moving.

“What the hell, Derek?” Stiles shouts, pushing at Derek’s shoulders, but Derek will not budge, since he has Stiles safe and secure under him and not mashed up between a wendigo’s jaws. Stiles is all hard lines and poking bones beneath him. His breathing is rapid and real.

"You think a little fire's gonna stop a wendigo from gnawing on your arm, Stiles?"

"No. But Allison's arrow would have," Scott says out of nowhere. He gives Derek a derisive head-tilt. "You're so lucky I realized it was you. You were about half an inch away from being vaporized."

Stiles wriggles out from under his grip and awkwardly stands, crossing his arms against his chest. He scowls, magnificently, projecting his hatred strong enough it would be seen from the moon. Derek stares at him, simultaneous emotions playing just under the surface of the skin. Admiration and horror. Fear and wonder.

Allison appears, breathing heavily. She looks perplexed, like she came three quarters of the way into a film. Derek sort of feels exactly the same.

"Explosives around us to contain the threat," Stiles says, rubbing up and down his arm where one of Derek's claws lightly grazed him. "Direct explosive to the heart to kill it dead."

“Your plan was to offer yourself up as bait and then hope your timing was just right to strike it down before it scoffed you whole?”

“I had to do something! You haven’t had much luck, have you, wolf-boy?”

Derek drags in a deep breath and then turns to Scott and Allison. “Leave us.”

Stiles raises an eyebrow and juts his chin forward. “Stay, guys, please.”

Scott and Allison don’t go. Derek is about a second away from embarking on a murderous rampage. He reins his anger in, swallows thickly.

“I need to talk to you, Stiles.”

Stiles gives a hollow laugh. “Yeah? Well I don’t need to talk to you.”

“You should go, Derek,” Scott interjects.

Derek seriously contemplates snapping his neck. He dismisses the idea. Too messy. He takes another, long look at Stiles, to convince himself he’s alive. More than alive. Stunningly vital in his fury. Derek walks back home, ruminating on the idea of not staying there for long.

*

Stiles cannot believe Derek. One night saying he’s a disease, the next attempting to save his life? Stringing him along like a piece of meat, marinading him in kind words, and then charring him on the grill? Derek is the most infuriating asshole he’s ever met. Capable of inspiring more rage than Jackson. That is some feat.

But when Stiles thinks about the look in Derek’s eyes, he is more confused than he has ever been in his life. That was dread. That was pure, unguarded desperation. Derek was devastated at the idea of Stiles being wendigo chow.

When he stomps into his room, his first thought is that his laptop is closed when he’d left it open. The second is that he doesn’t remember leaving a book on his bed. The third is that he’s really thankful his dad instilled in him the routine of tidying up every week.

On the bed there’s a beautiful, intricate illustrated edition of Around the Moon. Stiles drags his finger along the spine, heart thumping wildly in his chest.

Lying next to the book is a sheet of paper adorned with scrawled writing. It states, "Sometimes, the answers are worthy of the questions being asked." But Stiles can see that there's writing on the flip side, so he turns it over to reveal, "Of course, sometimes they're not." He chokes out a laugh, because of course Derek is a bastard even when he's trying to win him over. That is the natural order of things. All is right with the world.

He grapples for his phone. It slides onto the floor the one time he's desperate for it and Stiles doesn't give a short, cut-off moan in frustration, because who would be that annoyed by technology failing them for the gazillionth time? Okay. He does do that. He also shakes his hands angrily when he can't find how to call the number Derek texted him with.

Eventually, though, he presses the call button.

And maybe he shouldn't have been at all surprised that the buzzing noise seems to come from directly outside his window. But he still is. He opens the window further, pushes his head out, doesn't have to search around for long. Derek's sitting on the roof --- as you do --- with a contemplative expression on his face. He doesn't look his best, and because he's never been the most charitable of guys, is happy when karma bites back with a vengeance, Stiles is kind of disgustingly pleased.

"Hi, Derek," he says, slowly enough he has time to scrabble half out the window, back braced against the frame. It's not the most comfortable of positions.

"Stiles," Derek returns, voice muted and... pained. It sounds like Derek's hurting as much as Stiles has been, which is ridiculous.

"You wanted to talk to me," Stiles says, and he can hear a harsh note in his voice that he doesn't know how to stop, something broken and ugly. "So talk."

Chapter Text

He scratches the back of his neck, staring at Stiles. His need to repair the tentative friendship they’d been forming outweighs his many and varied misgivings. Instinctively, he trusts Stiles, believes he wouldn’t use this knowledge to hurt him. He can’t pinpoint any one reason why he feels this way, he can only highlight a hundred small moments and understandings between them. He’s been wrong, before, but he’d been young and untested. He’s too cautious, too cynical, to fall that way again. And Stiles is --- nothing about him is artifice, not even when he’s obviously planning to be. He’s always laid bare before Derek.

He gestures at the distance between them. "You expect me to shout across at you? Come here."

Stiles rigorously shakes his head. "How about no? Wendigos and trip-wired bombs I can handle. Heights? Not so much."

Derek rolls his eyes and scampers over to the window frame, shoving Stiles' right leg down and settling opposite him. It's a tight fit. Stiles does not look overjoyed Derek's invading his space. He doesn't care. Stiles rubs absent-mindedly at the scratch on his arm and Derek knows his first thought shouldn't be, 'I made that, we're tied together by that mark', but it is. He tilts his head back, takes a deep breath.

"When I'm with you, I can forget," Derek says, staring up at the cloud-filled sky and wondering how Stiles would feel if he howled for the absent moon. "For a moment, more, I don't have to rage against the world."

"So what's with all the teeth gnashing and glowy red eyes? You're angry with me for distracting you from your life's mission?"

"I'm not angry. That's the problem. You make me not angry, Stiles, and that's the only way I know how to stop myself from shifting. I've never been taught how to regulate the transformation beyond emotional cues. When you’re brought up a werewolf there’s this belief you have your whole life to learn the whys and wherefores of your existence, so it’s normal to reach adolescence and be given all the theory, little of the practicality. No one thinks they’re not going to be around to teach their kids. I started basic training when I was sixteen. And it takes years, a decade, to learn how to curb your instincts.

“When my parents died, I was just coming into my powers. I was always angry and I wanted revenge. My body became used to a baseline of tension, so when I'm relaxed, my senses go into overdrive. I become the wolf when I'm calm, happy, contented. I can’t control it."

Stiles’ eyes are wide and comprehending. "You're Scott in reverse."

Derek raises an eyebrow. "In every way. But, yes, especially in this."

Stiles seems to figure out the implication of the conversation about thirty seconds into the ensuing silence.

"Hang on, hang on, man down, are you telling me I make you happy? I make you calm? The prospect of causing me bodily harm actively delights you? Thereby rendering you capable of doing it. I feel like this is the kind of irony that'd be in that song."

"It's not the prospect of harming you, though God knows, I'm envisaging it now. It's just ---" Derek flails in Stiles' direction. Not a co-ordinated, elegant gesture, not a careless shrug. A flail. "It appears I enjoy spending time with you."

There’s a beat, two. Stiles’ eyebrows curve high on his forehead. His eyes are huge in the dim light and Derek distractedly thinks he could watch him for hours.

"I like how they're the most difficult words you've ever had to say. Really charming there, Derek. Makes a man feel worthwhile."

"If you're trying to keep me angry, it's working."

"Good. Because, yes. Can't have you getting all snuggly and bitey, now, can we?”

“You can see why I likened you to a disease.”

Stiles nods. “Look, if it's as simple as not being around me, why bother being around me at all?"

"Because I like how it feels, you idiot. I like being able to forget. I like leaving my burdens behind, laughing at inconsequential shit. I don't want to be angry every second of every day."

"Right. Sorry," Stiles mumbles. He seems confused, still, unsure.

It isn’t that he doesn’t believe him, Derek realizes. It’s more that he doesn’t think it makes sense he believes him. Stiles is keeping his gaze lowered. His expression, for the most part, is carefully blank. He has thoughts he’s not sharing, for once. Reactions he doesn’t want Derek to see. Derek is surprised by the vehemence with which he wants to discover all those hidden aspects of Stiles.

He waves his hand at him in condemnation, an extension of his earlier flailing, but this time deliberate. "You should be sorry. You're the worst."

"And you must be some kind of masochist, because you're the one who likes me. So what's the deal, here? Your heart rate can't drop below 50? Or is it 88?" Stiles asks, stretching his own hands out expansively. Derek hopes his glower is as forceful as he wants it to be. "What? I like to watch old-school movies."

Derek stares pointedly at him. "I remember when Speed came out. I don't think it's fair to call a movie old-school if you can remember its premiere."

"I'm pretty sure it was made before I was born. By, like, a year or so? But, still. Before. There's no remembering for me."

"God, you are so depressing." Derek taps a finger against his lips thoughtfully, contemplating. “I don’t know the exact threshold. I know it happens when you make me want to laugh --- either at your absurdity, or because you’re saying something resembling a joke.”

“Gee, thanks,” Stiles cuts in.

Derek ignores the interruption. “I know it happens when, yeah, my heartbeat is slower. When I’m out of context, out of place, living in the moment. The best way to bring myself out of a shift is to call on anger. That’s how I stopped last time. I was so pissed you wouldn’t get out the damn car.”

This is, perhaps, an admission too far, but since Stiles is still talking with him --- is, in fact, attempting to help him figure some things out, Derek’s not going to regret it.

Stiles rolls his head around, knocks it against the wood of the frame and tuts to himself about it. “Did you shift at all when you were teaching me how to box, the other day? I don’t remember you going all Mr Chaney on me.”

Derek pretends to think about it. Immediately he recalls the hope he’d had when he thought his problem had been solved. It had been akin to euphoria --- something he hadn’t felt since childhood. He half-suspects his disappointment is all that’s keeping him from transforming now. That and the steady drumming of his heart against his ribcage. He can’t entirely explain that, although he thinks it might have something to do with his proximity to Stiles, his obsession with the scratch on his arm.

Stiles seems to follow his gaze. His own becomes assessing.

“You didn’t, did you,” Stiles says. It’s a statement, not a question.

Derek looks down at his fingers, curtly shakes his head. When he looks up again, Stiles has his eyes closed, face tilted up and a small, private smile on his lips.

“You’re tired,” he says. “I’m gonna go.”

Stiles opens his eyes lazily, nods in acknowledgement. “Before you go, can I say one thing?”

“There’s usually no stopping you.”

“Thank you,” Stiles says.

He stretches his hand out and brushes it along Derek’s arm. The touch is light through his jacket, but it still makes the base of Derek’s spine tingle with warmth. He likes it a little too much. He can tell that Stiles is thanking him for more than the book.

“Am I forgiven?” Derek can’t help but ask, strikingly aware it’s imperative he know.

“For now,” Stiles returns. “But don’t be shocked if I come up with ways you can make it all up to me.” He puts on an exaggerated accent of indeterminate origin. “You want I should be a disease? I’ll be a disease.”

“See you, Stiles,” Derek says, aiming for long-suffering, but thinking he sounds more amused.

Stiles waves at him sluggishly and tumbles back into his room. Derek jumps down to the ground, pleased when Stiles locks his window and seems to settle. Five minutes go by. Derek stands by the fence and watches, wanting to be satisfied that Stiles is safe.

The window opens again and Stiles stands, shirtless and annoyed.

“Stop being a creeper, Derek. Go home and get some sleep.”

*

This must be how Barbicane felt as he hurtled toward the moon, Stiles thinks as he stretches luxuriously on his bed. He’s grinning stupidly to himself, the corners of his lips refusing to curve back down. It’s morning and he’s still coasting on a high, relentless inner voices repeating the mantra, ‘he likes me. He really likes me.’ He sings in the shower, telling the world good morning starshine, he’s picking up good vibrations, and he’s feeling good. The fact he’s practically tone deaf? So not important.

It’s entirely possible Stiles is drunk on pleasure.

It isn’t that he’s lacking in compassion. He’s aware that Derek’s basically told him he’s almost always miserable. He knows how that must suck, because he’s been through that, he’s felt that kind of loss and isolation, has endured emptiness. But the solitary light in Derek’s life? That’s Stiles. Stiles is it. He is on Earth to make Derek happy. And he really, really wants to. He is more than okay with that being his mission for as long as it takes.

He gets up, makes toast. His dad has already left and Stiles feels bad about that for thirty whole seconds, because he had been going to make him bacon and eggs. That’s the only time he can spare to feeling bad, though.

He texts Scott to come over once he’s cleared up the kitchen, washed and dried the dishes. They revised their plan regarding catching and killing the wendigo before Stiles trudged home and Stiles thinks he needs to point out that things are going to have to change again. Not that he’s spoken with Derek about it, but there’s no reason for them not to work together anymore. Strength in numbers and all that jazz.

Stiles is humming to himself by the time Scott comes in. He’s also drawing up a couple of diagrams. It was a solid plan, he thinks, the one they employed the night before. If Derek hadn’t gone all desperately defensive on his ass, he believes they would have been successful.

Scott looks up at the ceiling, then down at Stiles. He has a curious expression on his face that Stiles isn’t used to seeing.

"So, you and Derek, huh?" he asks, sitting down and stealing some of the skittles Stiles prepared for himself and him alone.

Stiles ceases slapping Scott’s hand away and gapes. “What makes you say that?”

“It’s all over your face,” Scott replies. He smushes his hand over Stiles’ chin, drags it up and around. “Just all over.”

Stiles artfully fends him off and thumps Scott in the shoulder. He rubs his hand over the top of his head and winces. He has no idea how Scott is going to take the news that his best friend has the hots for the Alpha he refuses to join forces with. It could go okay, or disastrously, terribly wrong. It would never stop them from being best friends, but it could make things awkward.

"Yeah, we're sort of friends," Stiles says. He waits.

Scott gives a wide, teasing grin. "In the same way me and Allison are sort of friends."

"No! Maybe. I don't know, emotions are complicated," Stiles says, petering off. He twiddles his thumbs. "I like him."

Scott scrunches his nose up. "That is so weird. You're like celery and nutella."

"Am I the celery, or the nutella?"

"Definitely the nutella. You're sweet, and, you know, nutty. Also, seriously damaging to someone's health if they have you in large doses."

"Oh, hah."

"It's true. We almost got burned and/or chewed up last night, Stiles." Scott jabs him in the side, and ow, Stiles did not sign up to be a human punching bag today. "Just tell me one thing --- do you trust him?"

There isn’t a second’s hesitation in Stiles’ reply. "Yes, actually, I do."

"Okay. Then I won't eat him. I'm going to continue to mistrust him, though, if that's all right by you?"

Stiles smiles. "I wouldn't have it any other way. For the record, I don't trust Allison, either."

Scott opens his mouth wide in shock, looking utterly appalled. Stiles might feel bad if this wasn’t a calculated move. "Excuse me?"

"There's no way someone that drop dead gorgeous would be interested in a schmuck like you except under extenuating circumstances. I'm positive she wears extra-strong prescription glasses and has just never had the heart to tell you."

"You know what? I take it back. You're the celery."

*

His pack apologizes. Derek isn’t anticipating it. Certainly wasn’t expecting it. Isaac is the first, too, which makes it even stranger. Isaac had been missing when he’d come back. Derek had thought he’d broken away to become an Omega, or to find another pack to join, or to attempt to build his own pack without overthrowing his Alpha, which was possible but very risky.

It turns out Isaac was sleeping on Boyd’s couch.

“I made a mistake,” Isaac says, sounding contrite. Sounding more like the boy he was before he was bitten. “I confused disobedience with initiative and I’m sorry.”

“Good,” Derek replies. “I’m glad you can see that now. I hope this serves as a reminder should you think about questioning my authority again.”

Then, because he isn’t a complete hardass, even though he probably should be, he claps a hand on Isaac’s shoulder and squeezes.

“You gonna help us kill a wendigo?”

Isaac blinks, once, the picture of innocence. “Is it gonna happen this century?”

Erica is the one to flick him on the ear.

*

They gather at Derek’s place. It’s the first time they’ve all been together and Derek is antsy about it, but it makes the most sense in drawing up a plan and assigning roles. There’s animosity and reluctance in the air, but everyone so far has entered into the spirit of the occasion. No one’s physically attacked anyone else, at any rate. There’s been some verbal sparring, but nothing Derek doesn’t remember from High School among regular teens.

"I have a theory about the wendigo," Derek says to the crowd at large.

Stiles responds as if he’s speaking to him alone. "That it's an enormous prick?"

"Obviously. But also that it might be living in the homeless shelter. Admit it --- if you could live in an all-you-can-eat restaurant, you would."

"That is not a word of a lie. Gosh, Derek, you're not just a face, are you?"

"You mean pretty face."

Stiles gazes at him mischievously. "Nope. I don't. You have a really unfortunate face, what with the symmetry, and the perfectly scaped facial hair, and the ridiculously intense eyes. You should get something done about that."

At this point, it’s mild irritation that Stiles is choosing to do this in front of everyone that’s keeping him from going primal, because Derek wants to lick that expression off. He’s been coming to the conclusion his regard for Stiles is not strictly platonic. It’s an uneasy conclusion to come to when surrounded by his pack and Stiles’ friends. He should have realized this before, but it crept up on him some time between last Friday and now. It’s --- a problem.

One that other people have noticed, judging by raised eyebrows and glances between the two of them.

“The shelter’s closed during the day, isn’t it?” Allison asks.

Derek never thought he’d feel this much gratitude for an Argent.

“Yeah,” Boyd says. “Begins operations at five. Staff go in a half hour earlier.”

“That gives us four hours to see if you’re right, Derek,” Scott chimes in.

They set to work mixing chemicals and acquiring suitable containers for their make-shift bombs. Work is engrossing, which Derek is very thankful for. He doesn’t have to consider the way Stiles is staring at him if he’s trying to keep his eyebrows from being blown off his face.

Afterwards, Allison teaches Isaac how to use a bow. He isn’t appalling at it. Derek will be more impressed when he sees him strike a moving target, however. Scott, Boyd and Erica practice sparring, flipping off the wall and throwing each other around. And Derek is his own worst enemy by suggesting he and Stiles run through the boxing formations they worked on Wednesday. Away from prying eyes. Far away from prying ears.

He hasn’t had to worry about this kind of thing in a long, long time. After Kate, he always assumed he was never going to have to worry about it again. He’ll never forgive himself for that error in judgement, for letting the wants of his body dictate the needs of his mind. But it isn’t the same with Stiles, he doesn’t have an agenda.

Stiles is the kind of person who makes someone they profess to dislike a sandwich because it’s polite, who thinks he’s the Zeppo even though he’s nine times smarter than most others his age, who offers to kill a wendigo just because it’s the right thing to do, who attempts to kill the wendigo under his own steam, because he wants to protect others, who probably wouldn’t tell him he has an unfortunate face if he was seriously only trying to get into his pants. Except, of course, knowing Stiles, that’s entirely what he’s thinking, he’s simply not going to pretend to be something he’s not for the opportunity.

Derek’s selfish side keeps saying he deserves a moment or two to concentrate on something other than an unwinnable quest for vengeance. Nothing can ever fix his life, not completely, not so that it’s perfect again. Especially since it wasn’t really perfect to begin with. But whatever it is he has with Stiles might come close to adhering one jagged, broken side to the other.

"So. Kinda been a crazy week, huh?" Stiles says flexing his arms.

"As always, you are the master of understatement," Derek returns.

He signals the start, lets Stiles get into position. They work through balance and co-ordination. Stiles’ form has improved, especially with his right hook. Derek doesn’t let any of Stiles’ punches connect, but he’s proud to see that there’s more likelihood they would today than there was during their previous session. He still manages to get Stiles in a headlock with little to no effort.

“I think we’re going to have to do this every time we meet up,” Derek says, unwrapping Stiles and jogging from foot to foot. He stretches up and notes Stiles’ preoccupation with the sliver of skin exposed between his pants and shirt. “In order to keep the beast at bay.”

“I have a better solution. You’re gonna like this. It’s the greatest,” Stiles says. His voice is a touch higher than usual, he looks slightly manic. “All you need to do is keep your heart rate up, right?”

Stiles slides forward, rests a hand on his shoulder. He licks his lips, huffs out a short breath.

Derek isn’t what he’d call overly patient. Even less so when he can’t see any need to be. He closes the gap between them in one swift move, cradles the back of Stiles’ head, and kisses him softly. Stiles makes a surprised moan against him, and Derek can’t resist tilting his head more, licking insistently along the seam of his lips; pressing and sliding and teasing. Stiles feels like a furnace against him, his heartbeat echoes in a rapid, syncopated rhythm, and Derek’s heart matches the beat. Stiles has one hand tugging at his hair, another at his waist. He arches into him like he can’t get enough. It makes Derek want to take more, pull Stiles down to the ground and possess him.

Stiles is overly eager and inexperienced, but Derek finds that downright endearing. He wants to be the one to teach Stiles how to use his tongue, how to breathe and kiss at the same time. He doesn’t want to pull away, plant short kisses on Stiles’ lips while doing so, but they’re limited by their self-imposed duty.

“I see that this has already occurred to you,” Stiles says breathily.

"I didn't want it, you know," Derek says, conversationally. His words are somewhat undermined by his fingers dragging down Stiles’ sides. “Not originally. It wasn’t a scheme I had in mind.”

"Of course you want this,” Stiles amends. “This way, you get to spend time with me without having to confront your wolf every five minutes."

Derek stares at Stiles, hands curved against his hips. He drags his lower body closer, crowding tight. "Is that your sole reasoning? Cold, hard, logic?"

Stiles gets this look on his face that speaks of shamelessness. In this instance, it’s also very clearly flirtation. Derek's always wanted to be immune to that look. Never has been. "Not so much with the cold, but the ha---"

He shakes Stiles, interrupts. "Don't say it."

"The hard, though," Stiles continues, ignoring him, grinning broadly.

Derek has no choice but to shut him up with more kissing. It’s another ten minutes before they go and join the others.

*

“If I’d known the shelter had a basement, I’d have suggested this first,” Stiles whispers. “I’m just saying. It would have saved a lot of time and consternation.”

He’s close by Derek’s back and a little distracted by envisaging licking all over his tattoo. He maybe made the wrong move by initiating things with Derek before the day was over.

Stiles, he thinks, keep it together.

The same asshole voices that were telling him he’s not worthy of Derek, the very same ones who insist he stay awake night after night, keep saying that this is the moment when everyone’s favorite character dies. It’s always right this second --- after discovering that the object of their affection loves them, after thinking they’re about to save the world, after making a huge sacrifice --- that the witty, capable, adorable one dies a gruesome, horrible death. Stiles is emphatically not a leaf on the wind. That isn’t it, he isn’t done. He is not going to finally find out what his weapon does and wittily remark upon that fact, no sirree.

All the werewolves say the wendigo is here, though it’s doing a great job of hiding in the shadows. Stiles doesn’t even think he needed wolf confirmation. The stench is rancid enough that his perfectly ordinary human nose has picked up on it just fine, thank you.

There’s a dead body hooked up on the wall, guts hanging out. Its eyes seem to follow him as he steps deeper into the room. This is the part where Stiles really wants to give a manly, gruff yell, but suspects it’d be more of a boyish, pitchy squeak. It’s only in remembering the acetone peroxide he has ready to go should the need arise that he doesn’t do either of these things. That and the five werewolves and kickass archer at his disposal.

Derek sees it before he does. He knows this because Derek stops still and Stiles practically barrels him head over ass. The wendigo is at least nine feet tall, mottled grey and brown, with skin hanging off in tatters. Stiles didn’t get the best look that time Derek shoved him to the asphalt and had his dastardly protective way with him, so it’s all new to his eyes. On closer inspection, the wendigo is covered in pus, slimy and skeletal. It looks malnourished, which, considering there’ve been nine victims that Stiles knows of alone, does not seem right, even though he should have expected this.

There is such a haunted look in its features that Stiles really thinks they’re here to put it out of its misery.

It might not feel the same.

It happens so suddenly, Stiles couldn’t say who moved first. All he knows is that Derek is shifting, the wendigo is surging toward them, and he’s shouting ‘Fus Ro Dah’ at the top of his lungs. There’s a sizzle and a pop, flame bursting on either side of the creature, entrapping it on its left and right. Scott, Boyd and Erica are springing behind the wendigo and all it can do is ram forward. It gives it a red-hot go.

The best thing about Stiles thinking of it in this way is that it’s literal as well as figurative. Derek ducks to the side as Stiles throws his bomb. Allison and Isaac send explosive arrows shooting into its chest, though some of them fall to the ground, hitting bone as opposed to flesh. The wendigo is down on its hands and knees, but it hasn’t stopped advancing. Stiles readies bomb number two, but before he can chuck it, Derek is clawing viciously at the wendigo’s neck. He grabs hold, digging in deep. There’s a wailing scream, Derek is flung to the other side of the room, and still the monster will not die.

This is when Stiles makes his noble sacrifice. He delivers a right hook to the wendigo’s stomach-region --- the only part of the wendigo that doesn’t appear to be just bone. His hand goes in like a knife through butter. Disgusting, spreadable actually-he-can-believe-it’s-not-butter. Naturally, in his fist he’s holding his second bomb. He lets it go immediately, and when he reclaims his hand, he runs the fuck out of the way. Thankfully so does everyone else.

And that is how they all end up soaked head to toe in wendigo juice. All in all, it’s an eventful day.

If anyone were to say that Stiles’ victory moves were awfully similar to the Snoopy dance, he’d have to recount this tale as reason not to mess with him. As it is, Scott joins in, followed by Boyd. Erica stares at them humorlessly, as Allison and Isaac make their way over.

Stiles searches for Derek and sees him leaning against the opposite wall, popping his dislocated shoulder into place. He’s grimacing, squeezing his eyes closed. Stiles wants to kiss him better. He makes do with going over, stroking his arm.

“Derek? Are you all right?”

Derek looks up, refocuses. There’s a hint of a smile in his expression. “I will be. What the hell were you shouting before?”

“It provided a distraction, didn’t it?”

“Yeah, to me.”

Stiles gives a moue of distaste, before deciding he’s not going to take that kind of crap lying down. “Shut up, Derek.” He steps forward and claims his mouth, heedless of covering him in pure, unadulterated wendigo slime. All he cares about is licking against his teeth, seeking entrance, teasing out a low moan.

“Oh my God,” Erica’s voice whines, cutting into the idyllic vacation that is kissing Derek. “Why don’t you take a seat right over there?”

Stiles stops what he’s doing, which is a hardship, and glares majestically.

Even Isaac rolls his eyes. “Leave them alone, Erica.”

Scott simply looks bewildered. He turns to Allison, murmuring, “I don’t get it, do you get it?”

*

“Our age difference doesn’t bother you, does it?” Derek asks when they get back to Stiles’ room.

They cleaned up the mess in the basement the best they could, went and buried the bodies of the wendigo and its victim. They showered. Separately. Stiles wasn’t really down with the independence involved in that.

There’s a note to Derek’s voice that suggests he’s been wondering since the morning. The fact that it has only been since the morning lends credence to Stiles’ response.

"I live in a world that thinks werewolves are fictitious horror stories as opposed to reality, my life isn't like that of anyone else, you think I'm gonna care you're a few years older than me?"

"It's more like several. Years," Derek says with a quirk of his eyebrow.

Stiles throws his hands forward, frown etched in deep lines. "Really? We're bothering with semantics here? If this is the kind of scintillating conversation we can look forward to, I'm not surprised your body tricks you into wolfifying before you slip into a state of catatonia."

Derek stands his ground, because he's annoyingly resilient and stoic like that. "I want an answer, Stiles."

“It doesn’t bother me. And you know what? Even if it did? If this is what it takes to stop you from going all American Werewolf in Beacon Hills, then I'd suffer and take one for the pack. For, not from, by the very obvious by. The only member of the pack I want to take anything from is you.” He brushes his hands down Derek’s biceps, adopts what he hopes is a very persuasive expression. “I mean, seriously, of the two of us, you think the hormonal teenager is the one who's going to raise any objections?"

"Well, yeah," Derek says, sliding his hands down the zipper of Stiles' hoodie, pulling him an inch closer. "I'm the werewolf. I have skewed morals."

Stiles looks down at his feet, counting each thrum of his pulse. It's going to become incredibly embarrassing, and no doubt awkward, but Derek values honesty and he feels it needs to be said.

"Okay, so, I'm about to get super corny and you need to promise me you're not going to tear my throat out, pull my heart from my chest, or generally maim me in any way."

"I make no guarantees."

Stiles snaps his head up and glares at Derek, but he doesn't seem to notice, because he's focused on Stiles' lips. "You're really going to make me work for this, aren't you?"

Derek gazes into his eyes again, and his grin is ridiculously wide. The Cheshire cat would come last place in a grinning contest against all those teeth. It's 'all the better to eat you with', is what it is.

"I may not physically change, but I feel like I transform when I'm with you, Derek. I feel like I'm my most powerful and yet my most out of control, and because I am not right in the head, I kind of love that feeling."

Stiles slides his eyes to the side, unable to meet Derek's intensity. He doesn't know what he's expecting. A slap, maybe, or perhaps a tickle. Really, the outcome is up in the air. So when Derek drags him into an embrace, nuzzles against his neck and sucks a hickey for all the world to see, he can't help but think he's gotten the best possible deal.

And Stiles? He could totally get used to this.

*

Stiles is the worst thing that could have happened to Derek.

No. That’s a lie. Derek is willing to admit --- to himself and maybe Stiles if he’s feeling generous --- that he lies on occasion. By omission and not intention, but sometimes the outcome’s the same.

Stiles is the best thing that could have happened. He’s frustrating as hell, believes in pushing Derek to his limits, insults him almost every chance he gets. But Derek wouldn’t have it any other way.

He’d been struggling alone for a long time. No family to speak of, not for a while. All he had in his life was a bucket-load of resentment and pain, keeping him in tightly restrained control, but preventing him from truly living. He’d had regrets and mistakes and one all-encompassing emotion --- anger. There were some things he’d never truly learned. Like how to get over the past, how to live in the moment, how to look to the future.

Until Stiles.

Now, he has warmth in his life again. Now, he has joy. Now, he has hope.