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One minute Derek thinks that they have the situation under control, that they'll bring down the Wendigo exactly as planned. The next it's pure chaos.

They locate the Wendigo's hiding place after days of grid searching, and it’s a lot further in the forest than they'd expected. Once in the vicinity, though, it's impossible to miss. The smell of death is pervasive even two hundred feet away and it makes Derek want to gag. He can't even imagine going in. Since it's still daylight, the pack is relying on the lore that says the beast should be hiding and asleep. They brought sturdy netting to put at the mouth of the lair, and they'll smoke it out, catch it, or at least slow it down with the net, and then kill it. The thing murdered half a dozen people already, leaving some of them half eaten in gruesome displays all over Beacon County, and there will be no mercy.

"I'll go place the net with Kira. You, Liam and Malia stay back in case it slips out," Scott whispers, unnecessarily since it's what they'd planned the night before.

"Shhh!" Stiles says, third in line with his dad. They both have guns, trained on the opening.

Scott nods and, carefully, he approaches the hole dug under a big tree. It probably was home to a bear once. Kira makes a disgusted face when they affix the net, and then resolutely takes out her sword, getting in position. Scott is wolfed out, all the weres are, as they know they'll have to react fast. Scott makes a countdown with his hand as he prepares to throw in the flash bang that will flush out the Wendigo.

Even with his hands over his ears, the sound of the bomb going off inside the lair is loud enough to ring Derek's ears a little. There's an angry scream that sounds almost like nails on a chalkboard, but after that, absolutely nothing else. No beast rushes out of the hole and as the seconds stretch out, Derek realizes he's holding his breath. Will they have to go in themselves? Scott inclines his head, listening, and that's when something moves at the edge of Derek's vision, on his right. It's almost imperceptible, but there's also a telltale sound of fast movement in the forest and he curses.

"It's out, it's out!" Derek shouts, crouching in the direction he thinks the Wendigo went.

"Fuck!" Stiles curses. "Regroup!"

They have no idea if a cornered Wendigo will flee or go on the offensive, but they can't take chances. If they are too spread out, they are vulnerable to attacks. They've fought together for long enough that there's no confusion. If they regroup, it's always with the idea of the wolves flanking the more vulnerable humans, no matter their feelings on the question. Derek's on his way to the Stilinskis when he's beaten to the punch by the Wendigo. He'd heard they were fast, but this is insane. It moves so fast, it's a blur as it zips on his left, going straight towards Stiles.

The Sheriff sees it coming, but only has time to step between it and his son and fire one shot before the beast is on him. Derek, who hasn't stopped running, barrels into them a fraction of a second later, somehow managing to wedge himself half between the Wendigo and the Sheriff as they tumble down to the ground. Immediately it's a confusing mess of pain and adrenaline, not helped at all by the fact that there's a lot of yelling and roaring on top.

The Wendigo is extremely skinny, basically a walking skeleton covered with clammy gray skin, but it's inhumanely strong nonetheless. Derek is assaulted with the smell of decay it's permeated with, but also by the fact that there's a lot of blood. The Sheriff's, Derek realizes when he glances up; the Wendigo probably went for his throat but took a bite of his shoulder. It hit the subclavian artery, it seems, and blood is gushing out. By instinct, Derek curls around the Sheriff even though he's cursing and trying to get away, using his body as a shield. Enraged, the beast starts clawing and biting at Derek instead, which hurts like a motherfucker.

"Fuck!" Stiles cries out and there's a gunshot, that does very little to stop the Wendigo from trying to rip Derek's lungs out though his back.

Fortunately, it takes only a few moments before Scott arrives and rips the Wendigo off. Derek can't tell exactly what is going on, too busy trying to keep breathing as he uses both hands on the Sheriff's shoulder to try to keep the blood in.

"Jesus, son, what did you do that for?" The Sheriff asks, voice strained with pain, trying to dislodge him.

Oh, right, Derek's lying on him and must be cutting off his air with his weight. He gets to his knees to stop crushing the Sheriff, straddling him now, but he refuses to let go of the shoulder wound. It needs constant pressure, or he will bleed out.

"Better it clawed at me than at you," Derek says, head a little woozy. He's losing a lot of blood himself with slashes and bites at his throat, sides and back.

"You're a mess, kid," the Sheriff says, then turns his head to the side to see the rest of the pack taking care of the Wendigo.

Scott, with his Alpha strength, has managed to restrain the Wendigo's arms behind its back while Liam has encircled its legs. It twists and screeches in their hold, looking vicious and rabid, mouth full of bloody teeth and deep soulless eyes pushed deep into their sockets. Derek has rarely seen a monster so hideous and blatantly evil, and if he could he'd go over and do his part to kill it without any remorse whatsoever. While Malia looks on, claws out and ready to pounce if needs be, Stiles calmly steps forward and shoots it three times point blank in the head. It does the trick and the beast slumps forward, finally dead.

"Take that motherfucker," Stiles says as Scott lets it fall on the ground. "Kira?"

Her mouth in a thin line, Kira brings down her sword to chop the Wendigo's head off. Better be safe than sorry.

As soon as Stiles deems the threat eliminated, he rushes over to his father.

"Holy shit," he says, assessing the wounds. "Fuck, Dad!"

He's radiating anxiety and fear, which means his control over his spark is slipping. He's been working with Deaton for years now, and one thing he has achieved, and it drives Derek a little crazy, is that Stiles can mask his emotions. In senior year, he went from a mix of anxiety and horny teenager to mostly blank in the span of two weeks. Right now, though, he's just a panicked kid who sees his father hurt and can't find the energy to focus on trivial things like shielding emotions, which are there to everyone to detect.

"I'm good," the Sheriff lies. His own emotions are split between relief and suffering, with an edge of nervousness that is building. He knows his condition is dire. "I'm worried Derek will keel over, though."

Kira, Scott, Malia and Liam are around them now too, hovering and worried.

"Derek?" Kira asks and he turns to her.

"I'm healing." It's slow going, but he can feel it. "But we need to get him to the hospital as soon as possible, he's losing a lot of blood."

The smell of it is overpowering even the Wendigo's stink.

"Right," Scott says, gently pushing Derek aside and taking his place, replacing Derek's hands on the wound.

Derek had been too hurt to drain the Sheriff's pain away, but he can see the black coursing through Scott's veins now. The pinched expression on the Sheriff's face lessens a little.

Kira rapidly examines Derek, who frankly just needs to catch his breath a little. He's going to be fine. He thinks.

"Stiles, give me your shirt. You too, Liam," Scott demands.

After Scott packs and bandages the Sheriff's wound the best that they can under the circumstances, they get on their way. Kira and Liam are helping Derek while Scott hauls the Sheriff on his back with Malia's help, Stiles hovers close and covers his mounting panic with jokes.

"Come on, Dad, it's just a tiny flesh wound," he says when the Sheriff grunts in pain at the changed position.

"I know. I can walk."

"Ah, no. Scott's going to give you a piggyback ride instead. Let's go."

They are pretty far in the woods, though, so it takes a long time to walk back to the cars. It's clear that the Sheriff's condition is getting worse by the minute, so at one point Scott starts running, Stiles following the best he can.

Derek, well, he's sort of out of it right now, being dragged along.

"Fuck, you're heavy," Liam complains and Derek would maybe laugh but he reckons it would hurt.

Then everything goes dark.

***

He wakes up an indefinite amount of time later on the cot in Deaton's office, by himself, covered in bandages that smell strongly of herbs it makes his nose itch. When he takes the cloth away, there are a couple of places where his skin pulls and itches a little, but he's completely healed. Derek washes up with a towel to get rid of the medicine, and since his shirt is nowhere to be seen (probably in the trash), Derek puts on one of Scott's that he finds folded up on a shelf in the back. Clearly, Scott keeps a couple of changes of clothes at work in case of accidents with the animals, and surely he won't be mad at Derek for borrowing one for now.

The murmurs of the conversation in the consultation room to his right have stopped, and the client Deaton was seeing leaves soon after. A minute later, Deaton comes to check on him and smiles when he sees Derek up and about, drinking from the faucet. He always gets thirsty after losing blood.

"Ah, good, you're awake. How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine," Derek says. "Head a little light, but okay. How long was I out?"

"Almost 16 hours," Deaton says and Derek grimaces. That's a lot of time for bites and scratches, no matter how much blood he lost.

"How's the Sheriff?"

Deaton frowns. "They got him to the hospital in time. Scott told me he got through surgery."

Derek breathes easier at that. The Sheriff is tough, in good health too. He doesn't like the concern on Deaton's face, though.

"But?"

"A Wendigo bite is dangerous. Even you needed time to work out the poison. Last I heard, the Sheriff was still fighting."

That sounds bad.

"I'll go at the hospital, get some news," Derek says.

"Keep me informed," Deaton says.

The clinic isn't that far from the hospital, and Derek gets there in minutes. He supposes that the Sheriff must still be at the intensive care unit, so that's where he goes first. It's tricky to find the pack by smell, since the hospital reeks of the astringent smell of antiseptic, the decay of illness and death, and the remnants of stress and grief of so many people crowded together. Derek knows he's at the right place when he hears Stiles having a whispered conversation with Scott, near the exit that leads to the ambulance dock.

"-need to do it!"

It's Stiles, and as much as he tries not to speak too loudly, his voice is urgent. Pleading.

"Stiles… He never gave me permission-"

"Fuck you, Scott! He's going to die, do you understand that?"

"Come on, man, you know I can't start biting people like that." Scott is calm, poised, doing his best to appease Stiles.

"He's my dad! He's not just people!"

"I know, I know. He's strong, he'll pull through," Scott says. His heart is steady, completely confident.

"Okay. Okay. He better be fine," Stiles whispers, his tone wavering between anguish and a threat.

"Come here," Scott says.

Derek has intruded enough, so he goes to the waiting room to join the rest of the pack.

Kira and Malia are a little disheveled, but look fine. They are sitting closely together, silent but clearly taking comfort in one another. Liam is not far for them, playing on his phone with a frown. But what makes the hair stand on end on Derek's arms is that Lydia is immobile, staring into space. No one else seems to have noticed, though. When Scott and Stiles come back, Stiles rubbing a fist under his eyes to wipe away tears, Derek feels so helpless he doesn't know what to do.

"Hey Derek!" Stiles says, the corner of his mouth turning up in an almost smile. He's back to smelling his default of generic vaguely content, back in control enough to mask how emotional he is. "Glad to see you."

He has no idea what is going to happen, how his world will shatter and Derek doesn't know how to protect him. Something must show on his face, because Stiles frowns.

Derek takes a step forward, has half a mind to take Stiles away before the banshee scream breaks his heart but it's probably too late. In fact, Derek slips and quickly darts his eyes to Lydia, which unfortunately brings Stiles attention to her.

He catches on immediately.

"No!" Stiles yells, running towards Lydia. "No no no no no! I forbid you, please don't! Lydia, you can't-"

Stiles doesn't even reach Lydia before she opens her mouth and screams, deafening. He stops in his tracks, stricken. In fact, they are all wearing similar shocked face, heartbeats going erratic. Melissa arrives in the room half running, white as a sheet and Derek feels powerless. He doesn't know how to comfort them, doesn't even know how he feels. He respected John Stilinski, a compassionate and honest man, like few others. Derek feels his passing as a strong blow, too. He carefully watches Stiles who is still looking at Lydia with horror. When she comes back from her trance, her face crumples and she starts crying.

"Oh, no," she says, reaching for Stiles but he takes a step back. "I'm so sorry."

Stiles is shaking his head. "It's not your fault." His voice is clipped.

Chemosignals are pouring in the room now, but Stiles' are now bright and powerful, somewhat amplified instead of subdued, a conflict of sadness, grief and, by the second, anger, and it's getting stronger.

"Stiles-" Scott says, helplessness plain to see on his face and in his voice but Stiles pivots, raises his hand to ward him away.

"No," Stiles replies. Derek has never seen so much scorn on Stiles face. "Not now."

That hits Scott in the gut, visible for all to see. Derek doesn't think Scott should be blamed for this at all, but he also knows that Stiles isn't rational right now. In fact, he's anything but. Just to make things worse, a doctor emerges from the doors leading to the OR, face stern, and looks over the little assembly until he spots Stiles. He walks over and Stiles straightens up, trying to be stoic. They all know what is coming.

"Son, I have terrible news."

And, at the words, grief overcomes anger again, and Stiles sags. Derek is half tempted to approach to try and comfort him, to return the gesture from when Boyd died. What holds him back is the thought that if the Sheriff is dead, it's a little bit because of him, too. He could have been faster, protect him more. Anyway, Melissa has stepped forward and Stiles accepts her embrace, even if he stays stiff.

"Oh, honey, I am so sorry."

"Yeah."

**

Derek waits until noon the next day to go to Stiles' house. He's surprised that when he arrives, there's only Stiles' heartbeat in the house. He thought the pack would be here, clumsy and uncomfortable in the face of grief, but supportive nonetheless.

When he knocks, Stiles doesn't even come to the door. He just yells.

"I told you to go away!"

Okay, so this explains that.

"It's me," he says, loud enough for Stiles to hear.

There's angry stomping and when Stiles throws the door open, Derek's hit by a wave of anger and little else. Still not reigning in emotions, then. Derek doesn't know if that's good or bad. He's disheveled, but Stiles' eyes are clear, not red at all.

"And why would I want to see you," he hisses.

Derek's not even hurt, because all that he can see is himself, 9 years ago. After the fire, he was so fucking furious at death and his abysmal stupidity taking his family away that he lashed out at everyone, especially people who cared and tried to help.

Instead of trying to explain that, which would not be well received, Derek shrugs.

"I know you don't."

That makes Stiles blink, momentarily derailed.

"I'm here anyway," Derek adds as the telephone starts to ring.

It seems to set Stiles right back into being aggressive. "I don't need your pity."

Derek lets his eyebrow rise. "You think I pity you? No. But I can help with the vultures," he says, inclining his head towards the ringing.

Funeral homes, health insurance, life insurance, realtors, he knows the dance.

Stiles bites his lip, indecisive between shutting out everyone and getting rid of the irritant. After the phone rings two more times, he finally steps back, an invitation for Derek to come in.

"Most of it is taken care of by the department, thank fuck." When he gets to the telephone, he takes a deep breath and answers. "Stiles Stilinski."

"Oh, Stiles honey. It's Mrs. Stanley," Derek overhears and Stiles pinches the bridge of his nose.

"Hey, Mrs. S," he says, hiding his exasperation well.

"I've heard about your father, so terrible. My condolences. He was such a good man."

"Thank you."

"Can I help you in any way? I have a chicken pot pie that-"

"That's so nice of you, Mrs. S, but I'm all set," Stiles says, rolling his eyes.

He opens the refrigerator door to gesture wildly and Derek can see it's filled with casseroles, Tupperware containers and other food. He even makes a gagging motion and Derek almost smiles.

"Oh. Are you sure?" Mrs. Stanley sounds dejected that her offer has been refused.

"Very sure, I wouldn't want it to go to waste."

He's handling the old lady so very well that Derek is in awe. A surge of protectiveness blindsides Derek so strongly that he vows here and now that even if Stiles doesn't want it, he'll take are of him the best he can.

"Okay then. But promise that you will call me if you need anything," Mrs. Stanley demands.

Stiles closes his eyes. "I promise."

Derek isn't surprised that his heart skips. White lies, they are understandable.

"Again I'm sorry. Take care of yourself, Stiles. About the fune-"

Stiles doesn’t let her finish.

"The details will be in the papers this weekend. Bye bye now."

While Stiles finished the phone call, Derek walked to the fridge, and he takes out something that smells particularly good.

"Oh, sure, help yourself!" Stiles says sarcastically.

"What?" Derek says, taking a plate out and dishing out a good portion of curry. "You said it. You wouldn't want it to go to waste. Want any?"

Stiles squints at him. "You're just like Kira and want to mother hen me into eating."

"Only if you want," Derek says with a shrug. He licks his spoon clean before putting the plate in the microwave and it's delicious. "Mmmm. Wow, that's good. A lot better than being accused of murdering my sister just after having to bury half of her corpse that was used as bait."

What Stiles needs right now is to not be treated as if he's going to break any second. In the middle of all of the turmoil, he needs something familiar, normal. For the two of them? It's mostly insults, snark, and banter. That's why Derek just said something so outrageous, and it works.

Once again he's derailed Stiles, whose jaw hangs open. He flushes, smells strongly of guilt for a moment and before he can try to apologize – it wasn't Derek's intention at all – the phone rings again. Stiles makes an inarticulate sound of frustration but Derek steps in and takes the receptor.

"Stilinski residence, how can I help you?" Derek asks.

"Humm," it's a man's voice, hesitant. "May I talk to the young, hum, Steve is it?"

Not even close enough to know Stiles' name, Derek can't imagine it's that important.

"I'm sorry sir, he can't come to the phone right now. Can I help you in any way?"

Stiles is looking at Derek as if he's a pod person, which makes Derek raise an eyebrow again.

I can be polite!, he mouths.

"News to me!" Stiles whispers.

On the line, the man has given his name and "– I was wondering about the Sheriff's funeral?"

"Of course Mr. Porter. All of the details will be in the papers next weekend."

"Okay, thank you. Give my regards and condolences to the Sheriff's son."

"Will do Mr. Porter. Have a good day."

Derek hangs up just as the microwave beeps. He doesn't even look at Stiles, goes to get his plate and starts eating. It's even better hot. Jeez.

"This is surreal," Stiles says. "What the ever loving fuck, Derek?"

As if on cue, the phone starts ringing again. Derek, who took the hand held with him to the table, answers.

"Stilinski residence. Just a second please." He puts his thumb on the mike and looks at Stiles. "I've got this, go take a break. Anyone you want me to patch through?"

Stiles puts both hands in his hair, tugs at it. "Fuck. Okay. If Rosa calls, it's the arrangements. I left her in charge of everything. But I think she'll need me to sign some stuff."

"Fine. I'll see about letting her through. Now go out for a run, go shower, go take a nap, just crash in the living room, whatever. I'll deal with the phone."

"Okay. God, I just can't anymore. Thanks."

It seems to physically hurt him to accept the help and to express gratitude about it, but Derek doesn't mind. Heck, he's walked in Stiles' shoes, he knows the feeling. People want to be nice, but they don't realize that every single repetition of sympathy just grates and grates.

"Not a problem," Derek says, before sitting back in his chair and pulling off his thumb from the phone. "I'm sorry to have kept you waiting. How can I help you?"

Shaking his head as if the weirdest thing he's ever seen in his life is Derek being civil on the telephone, Stiles finally turns around and bounds upstairs.

Derek tunes back into the conversation and prepares himself for a long afternoon.

**

Three days in, Stiles looks relieved when Derek gets to the house in the morning, happy to escape in his room to do who knows what all day. Derek barely sees him, though Stiles does come down from time to time to scavenge in the fridge. Way less than he should, but Derek keeps his mouth shut; making a comment on Stiles having to eat more would not be well received. After all, Derek's a lot more useful here in the house where he can keep an eye on him than if he gets kicked out.

As far as phone duty goes, the requests for information concerning the funeral are still frequent, but they should go down once the local journal publishes them. People who genuinely seem worried about Stiles get their name written on a tablet, with the time they called. Stiles does read the list every time he comes down, but apart from pausing to take the info in, he never calls anyone back. He seems to have started pulling himself together, too, chemosignals lowering every day, though not to the level of control he'd mastered. On one hand it's probably a good thing, since it means Stiles is adjusting and starting to cope with the situation, but on the other hand he's back to being harder to read.

Derek also graduates to doorman, where he runs interference with anyone who comes by the house. Mrs. Stanley finally comes over with lasagna instead of chicken pot pie, and it's delicious. He doesn't feel guilty accepting food in the least, as it means they don't have to worry about groceries. Plus, it makes the people who bring it over happy. Derek is surprised that no one from the pack visits, but they must be calling Stiles' cell phone directly… that he either avoids or deals with by texting. It's not like Derek is trying to intrude on Stiles' privacy, but he hasn't heard him talk to anyone from his room.

He's brought a book to fight boredom, since there's nothing on daytime TV that can hold Derek's interest more than a couple of minutes anyway. He's in a particularly well written fight sequence when the phone rings, which explains why Derek is distracted when he answers.

"Stilinski residence, how can I help you?"

"Is that…" The person on the other end sounds confused. "Can I speak with Stiles?"

It's Scott, and suddenly Derek is focused on the conversation.

"Hey Scott, it's Derek."

"I thought I recognized your voice! Why are you answering the phone at Stiles'?" Scott asks.

"Just helping him out," Derek says.

"Oh." There's a long pause. "He let you in?"

Frankly, Derek might be a little insulted at the incredulity.

"Maybe you didn't notice, but we're friends," Derek says, a bit snidely. He knows Scott and Stiles has (or had) a codependent relationship, but it's not like Stiles isn't friends with other people.

"I know, I know, it's just… he hasn't answered his phone since he holed up in the house. At all. And when we came over the first morning he pretended we weren't there."

Just like Derek thought. "I'm aware. Heck, I'm in the actual house and he pretends I'm not here."

"You've been there for long?"

"Got here after you guys, after lunch, I guess. Been here every day. I take care of the phone and the door."

"Oh. What if I came over today?" Scott asks, hopeful.

Derek's not sure that's a good idea. He doesn't want to deal with a sad Scott, but Stiles has been less hostile today, he doesn't want to set him back.

"Does he check his texts?" Derek asks.

"I'm notified that he does at least once a day. But he hasn't answered any, not even from Lydia. I asked."

It's worse than Derek thought, then. He hoped Stiles at least sent proof of life from time to time, though the 'message read' notification works for that too.

"Then text to ask him if you can come over, see if he reacts," he suggests.

"Why don't you ask him?"

Oh, Derek's not getting in the middle of this. "I'm not your messenger."

Scott sounds so very frustrated. "Why are you letting him act like this?"

"I'm not letting him anything. He acts like this, it's his choice. Right now, anger and avoidance is his way to deal with everything. And if that's the way he copes, that's on him too."

"That's not coping."

He understands where Scott is coming from, but that attitude has always enraged Derek. "How do you know? Who are you to decide how he grieves?"

Scott stays silent for a long time after that. "I don't like it."

"It's not about you."

Stiles is moving around in his room and will probably come down soon. Derek doesn't want to hide the fact he's been talking to Scott, but he'd prefer not to throw oil on the fire either.

"This sucks, Derek!" Scott says vehemently. "I should be there, with him. But he hates me now."

"He doesn't," Derek replies, shaking his head. "He's angry, but he could never hate you. At least not for long. Let it be, Scott. For now."

Again silence. Then Scott sighs.

"Okay. I'll text. I hope he'll want to see me."

Derek hums in encouragement, but frankly he's not convinced.

"Can I call you?" Scott asks. "To know how he's doing?"

"Sure," Derek says. "But call after 10 pm, when I'm back at home."

"Wow. Okay."

"Bye Scott," Derek says, hanging up.

Derek can't quite get back into his book after that, and he winces when 10 minutes later he hears Stiles talking to himself.

"No. No, no no. I think I've made myself clear, god fucking damnit! There, capital letters, 'NO VISITORS'. Period. There you go. Should be clear enough for you. Jesus fuck," Stiles rants.

Soon after, Stiles clomps down the stairs, shrouded in a cloud of anger, as if the shield he'd managed to put back on just exploded. Derek doesn't even look at him, fakes reading his book. He can feel Stiles hovering between the kitchen and the living room. Most probably he's looking to pick a fight, and Derek won't give him that satisfaction, or at least won't make it easy for him. After a couple of minutes of indecision between starting an argument and his continued pretense at denying Derek's very existence, Stiles huffs and goes to the fridge.

"Casseroles, stew, soup, more casseroles… what about the good stuff, like pizza? Is there a 'Best comfort food for orphan' recipe book? Because I have complaints."

At least Stiles is talking now, even if it's to rant about people being more thoughtful and generous than he deserves with that attitude. The second day Derek had come over, Stiles had not said a single word all day, or even looked at him for that matter. He'd spend hours alone in his room, probably on his computer. He would come down to get a soda or snacks, have a quick look at the list Derek had started writing, and almost ran back upstairs. A mute Stiles had been quite unsettling, for sure. But Derek didn't push or even try to start a conversation, and eventually the next morning Stiles had started talking again, even though it was mainly to complain. Food got the blunt of his criticism. People not leaving him alone was a very close second.

Derek hears the faint vibration of Stiles phone, and he whips it out with a scowl.

"What part of leaving me alone isn't clear with 'no visitors'," Stiles mumbles.

He blinks at the display, though, and sits down. There's a bit of longing mixed with the anger right now. Derek is convinced it's not Scott, and even though he's curious he pretends to go back to his book. From the corner of his eyes, he sees Stiles biting his lip, then type a quick response. Less than fifteen seconds later the phone vibrates again. The text exchange takes 3 or 4 back and forths and Stiles stands, pocketing his phone. He sniffs his t-shirt and makes a face – he does smell a bit, he's been two days without a shower by now. It's easy not to care, though, since Derek actually likes Stiles natural scent when it's not covered by bodywash and shampoo. After the sniff test, Stiles pulls out his phone again and sends another text. Without a word, he runs upstairs, and five minutes later he's in the bathroom showering.

There is no way to know who Stiles is going out to meet without outright asking, but that would break the tacit agreement they're working with, which is that Derek doesn't pry and Stiles won't kick him out. He hopes he'll get a clue from Stiles when he's ready to leave, but of course that's exactly when a well-meaning person calls to inquire about the poor Sheriff's son. Derek is still trying to get rid of old Mrs. Morris – who is going on and on about how he's such a nice young man to help his friend in these difficult time - when Stiles comes back down, pink and scrubbed clean, his wet hair spiky. He's as chemosignal-free as he ever was, too, and looking more alert than he's been in days. Stiles glances at the paper pad, nods when he sees Mrs. Morris' name, but then hurries to get out, keys in hands and without a peep about where he's going. Dammit.

Not knowing is eating at Derek, but he doesn't have to wait long to get answers. Stiles comes back to the house barely 45 minutes later. He looks subdued, his face if not his scent, a mess of grief and loneliness, and it makes Derek want to gather him into a hug. When Stiles gets close enough, Derek smells a mix of Melissa and hints of coffee on his clothes, which is enough to tell the story. Stiles pauses for a beat near the couch, as if he's debating saying something, but there must have been too much emotion for him today because he hurries back up the stairs. Stiles will either speak about it later or not. Derek sighs and pretty much resigns himself to not knowing.

That Stiles went out of the house at all is progress in itself, though.

 

**

The day of the funeral is absolutely gorgeous. The autumn air is crisp and the sky is clear blue, without a single cloud.

There is an hour-and-a-half set before the ceremony where Stiles, standing beside his father's open coffin, accepts the sympathies and condolences of what looks like everyone in Beacon Hills. Back straight, ensconced in a black suit that is a little too tight around the shoulders, Stiles shakes hands and nods to everyone at their turn, perfectly poised.

Derek, with the rest of the subdued pack, goes through the line. He's pretty sure that no one likes wakes and funerals, but they make Derek extremely itchy and uncomfortable. The powerful smell of incense, too many cut flowers, formaldehyde and faint decay sure doesn't help. Ever since the ceremony for his family, after the fire, Derek has avoided churches and these ceremonies like the plague. He does want to be here for Stiles, though, as moral support if anything else. Plus the Sheriff had become a friend over the years, whom he mourns too. It's important to him to pay his respect to the man.

Last in their group, Derek sees Stiles accept the pack's hugs with detachment and perfunctory thanks for being there, just as he did with everyone else. Frankly, it is a dick move, made to hurt, but fuck if Derek doesn't relate anyway. Scott tries to hold a little tighter but Stiles just stays stiff and then pushes him back.

"We need to talk," Scott says.

"Bad time," Stiles replies, with a mean smile.

Puppy eyes out in full force, Scott tries anyway. "Later, I mean. Stiles-"

"The line is long. If you could maybe just move? On a schedule here," Stiles says, not looking at Scott anymore.

It's one of the cruelest dismissals Derek has ever witnessed.

Scott’s face falls. "Yes, of course. When you're ready. I love you. I'm so sorry."

Stiles' heart speeds up a little, something Scott undoubtedly hears too. The tiny nod Stiles then gives Scott is finally a minuscule step in the right direction, enough to make Scott move, anyway, still looking miserable but a little less tense.

When it's Derek's turn to offer sympathies, the hug he gets in return seems a bit more genuine.

"I get why. I wrote the book," Derek whispers into Stiles' ear. "But tone down being a dick."

Stiles huffs and rolls his eyes. "Shut up."

Derek squeezes his neck and steps away, giving his spot to the next person in line.

As expected, the church is full to the brim for the service. Also unsurprising, the Beacon Hills department takes a huge part in the whole affair, including carrying the coffin, an honor guard, the touching last radio call ritual and a sober speech about the many ways John W. Stilinski was a great man dedicated to the community.

Stiles' eulogy is also perfect. It's the right balance of gravitas and humor, and even though it seems almost improvised, Derek indirectly witnessed and heard Stiles slaving on it for four entire days. The heartfelt speech doesn't leave a single dry eye in the place (except for Stiles himself, who powers through like a man on a mission).

For the rest of the ceremony, and the more private burial that follows, Derek allows Stiles to use him as a buffer. Every chance he has, Stiles subtly maneuvers to put Derek in between himself and Scott, until Scott doesn't even try to force the issue anymore. Stiles doesn't say anything mean, thankfully, but he doesn't show any openness to talk either.

Derek also stands by Stiles side as the policemen of Beacon Hills take their place for the 21 gun salute. For one of the first time today, Stiles looks as if he's losing countenance. When Derek feels Stiles flinch at the first volley, he reaches for Stiles' wrist and holds on until they finish the firing, wanting to offer his strength. Stiles doesn't shake him off, in fact his heartbeat stabilizes with the contact, but Derek lets go in the end anyway, afraid to make things awkward if he holds on too long.

When they finally end the ceremony by giving Stiles the Sheriff's badge on top of the folded flag that had covered the coffin – John Stilinski was a decorated army veteran, too -, it almost makes Stiles crack. He holds on to his tears, though, even when they lower the casket into the ground. He keeps his eyes fixed on the double headstone that has already been touched up with his father's name and details: John W. Stilinski survived his late wife 10 years.

"Bye Dad. I love you," is all that Stiles says when he throws a handful of dirt on the coffin.

He then turns to the people present to pay their respect. "Thank you for being here today, and for all of your good words. Most of you knew my Dad, and I'm sure you agree that he would have wanted us to smile and celebrate his life, not cry over his loss. I invite you all to come back to the Church, a light lunch will be served downstairs. Thank you."

Melissa, who seems to be the only person apart from Derek that Stiles lets approach without tensing up, hugs him and kisses his temple. Wordlessly, she walks with Stiles towards the church, an arm around his back.

Scott falls in step with Derek, reeking of sadness.

"I hate this," Scott says.

"Don't we all," Derek replies. "I'm sorry he's been so hard on you."

Scott scoffs. "Don't apologize for him. I just don't get why he hates me so much. I wish I could go back-"

"Wishes and what if's are pointless, trust me," Derek interrupts. "I told you, he's in full defense mode. Stiles doesn't hate you, at all."

He sighs deeply. "Feels like it. No one managed to get though to him but you."

Derek shakes his head. "I didn't, not really. But I've been where he is, it helps."

The church's basement is full. Soon the temperature rises, as does the sound level and the smell of sweat and, weirdly, a strong undercurrent of mothballs that seems linked with the basement itself. Frankly, it's a little stifling and the food, decent enough for a cold buffet, quickly disappears. The pack members stay in a loose group in the corner, morale still somber enough that the conversation doesn't go past generic chitchat. Derek stays by their side, but often checks on Stiles, who is going from group to group with a surprising ease, distributing nods, shoulder touches and thank yous. He works the room systemically counter clock wise, and it soon becomes clear he's keeping the pack for last.

When he finally makes it to them, he looks resolute and, for once, non-confrontational.

"Hey," he says, stopping right at the edge of the group which immediately opens to include him, the emotional state of the pack improving instantly. He gets welcoming smiles, and Derek knows that more than one person would come forward with a hug if they felt they could get away with it.

"How are you doing?" Malia asks, concerned and as usual not one to beat around the bush.

"Not so good," Stiles says with a grimace, rubbing a hand in his hair. "Look, I know I've been an asshole-"

"It's-" Lydia doesn't even have a chance to complete her thought before Stiles cuts her off.

"It's not fine and not okay," Stiles says, tone rising once again. Visibly, there's some self-loathing mixed with anger, something else Derek is intimately acquainted with and doesn't need to smell to recognize. "I feel like a time bomb," Stiles adds. "I need space, you all have to give me space."

"Anything you want," Scott says immediately. "I won't lie, it hurts like a bitch, but if that's what you need…"

"It is," Stiles says, vehement. "I know you all want to help, but I just can't. I need time off. I have to process this nightmare, get my head in order."

"Fine," Scott says, raising his hands up in surrender.

He's not particularly happy about it, but Scott looks resigned and calm, and mostly smells like it too. The concession makes Stiles relax a bit. Everyone else looks on, nodding. Lydia seems a bit peeved that the time out applies to her too, seeing how she and Stiles formed a strong friendship over the years.

"Now you'll have to excuse me, I've had more than my share of this. One more 'sorry' and I'm going to blow a gasket," Stiles says, and his heart stays steady as a metronome. "Thanks for coming."

Derek is pleased that Stiles initiates a hug with Scott, who almost jumps into his arms. It doesn't last very long, but at least it seems genuine. He then briefly hugs everyone else, accepting their "I'm here whenever", "take care of yourself" and "I love you" that floods the area with grief, love and support. Stiles is visibly affected, but he still reigns his own chemosignals in. Derek lets them all have their turn before him, and even though he thinks what everyone else said, he stays silent, just hugs Stiles firmly. He is pretty sure you can't give moral support by close contact alone, but he tries. Before he lets go, Stiles takes a deep breath, lets it out, and when he steps back the composure is back.

"Okay. Okay. I love you all, really. Just give me time."

With a small mirthless smile, he steps back, and Derek wonders if what broke at the Sheriff's death will ever heal properly. He knows for a fact that the old cliché where you have to give it time is mostly true, but he can admit he's never quite been the same since his own family died.

Derek keeps an ear on Stiles who then goes to see Rosa, talking with Melissa by the catering tables. Rosa took charge of most of the arrangements surrounding the funeral and has been great, the perfect mix of professionalism and concern to deal with Stiles during the whole process. Stiles thanks her sincerely, for the dozenth time at least that Derek has heard.

"I'm very grateful, for everything," Stiles says while hugging her, too. Rosa is about 5 foot 2 and almost disappears in Stiles' embrace.

"You're welcome, honey," she says, tapping on his shoulder lightly.

"Can I go? I just can't anymore. I know I should stay until everybody leaves, but-" Stiles does look at the end of his rope.

"Go, it's fine," Rosa reassures him. "You've done great, I'll take care of the rest."

Stiles kisses her forehead soundly. "You're a life saver. Thank you."

"Come here," Melissa says, hugging Stiles tightly at her turn. They cling to each other for a long while. It figures, being the two people most affected by the Sheriff's death. Derek wonders if John and Melissa had finally started officially dating, or if the universe denied them that bit of happiness until the end.

"I've got to go," Stiles says when they finally let go.

"I understand. You can call me anytime," Melissa answers.

"I know. Take care," Stiles says, going towards the door. He keeps his head down so he can avoid getting stopped for more conversation as he's making his exit.

Derek won't have any reason to go to Stiles' house tomorrow, now that most of the arrangements are done. There are still things to take care of with the insurance, pension and other stuff, but Stiles will have to deal with those by himself. Luckily, Stiles is now nineteen, so there won't be an issue with living by himself. He inherited everything from his dad, which isn't much but the house is sturdy and paid, and the life insurance should pay the taxes and utilities until Stiles finishes school. If he starts back, that is, because he quit right after the Sheriff died.

All of those thoughts are circling in Derek's head and he's distracted, so much that he almost misses Stiles addressing him from the doorway.

"Hey Derek. Derek!"

He looks up and Stiles is leaning back inside and is looking at him.

"Just realized I don't have my car," Stiles says when he's sure he's being heard.

Of course. Derek nods and Stiles gives him a small grateful smile before slipping out once more. Derek is slipping on his coat jacket, put aside when it got too hot, when Scott touches his shoulder.

"Thanks," Scott says.

"It's not a problem." It's just a lift and, frankly, Derek hadn't planned on staying after Stiles had gone anyway. He hates wakes and funeral, even more that most people do, and he's pretty sure no one resents him for it.

"For everything, being there for Stiles since, you know," Scott says.

Derek grabs Scott’s shoulder and squeezes comfortingly. "It’s fine. Though he’s even more of a pain in the ass than usual."

That startles a laugh out of Scott, who immediately looks guilty. "Shit, you can't say stuff like that. He just lost his dad."

"True nonetheless. And believe me, not coddling him is the only way he would let me in."

"You know, you're a pretty decent person, Derek Hale," Scott says with a small smile.

He won't lie, the compliment is welcome and warms him up. He's always actively and even unconsciously wanted Scott's approval and acceptance, even before he turned out to be a True Alpha. Derek smiles back and dips his head.

"Thanks. I try." He nods at the rest of the pack. "I've got to go."

"He didn't eat at all," Kira says, pointing to the empty buffet table.

"Okay," Derek says. He'll see if he can do something about that.

"Remind Stiles I'm waiting for his call," Lydia says.

"I'm not your inside man," Derek says, rolling his eyes.

"You are and you know it," Malia says. "Now go, or he's going to be pissed again."

**

Derek parks in the Stilinski driveway and there's no missing the way Stiles' heart has sped up. He looks anxious, and Derek thinks he knows what's up.

"Want to crash at my place tonight instead?" he asks.

Stiles turns surprised eyes his way but almost immediately sags in his seat with relief.

"Oh god, yes. I just can't. Not today. "

He might have lived alone in the house since his father died, but now that the Sheriff is buried, the emptiness and finality is bound to hit like a ton of bricks.

"I can go in and pack a bag if you want."

There's no hesitation and Stiles nods, handing over his keys. "Yes. That would be great. Just a change, I'm coming back tomorrow," his heart skips and he repeats himself, firmer, "I'll come back tomorrow, do what I have to do." This time there's no lie.

It doesn't take long to grab a pair of jeans and some sweatpants, the red plaid shirt Stiles non-ironically loves – it does look good on him – and a couple of plain t-shirts. He's not sure Stiles is up for being a billboard for jokes right now, so solid colors are more prudent. It's a little weirder to go through his underwear drawer to grab a couple of boxer-briefs and socks, but it's a necessity. He stuffs Stiles' pillow in the bag, then goes to the bathroom to add toothbrush, razor, hair gel and the body soap/shampoo Stiles has been using for as long as Derek has known him. There are a couple of medication bottles with his name on the counter so Derek puts those in, too, and he's going back to the car when he has a sudden thought to go back to Stiles room to put in his Sharknado pajama pants and grab a pair of Chucks.

When he comes out, Stiles is staring through the passenger door, towards the other side of the street. He's obviously a long way from here, completely in his world, and startles when Derek enters the car.

"Still okay to come to my place? There's also the hotel on Main," Derek says.

"Whatever," Stiles says, shrugging. It's a definite lie.

"My apartment it is," Derek says and if Stiles looks outside again, he does look less anxious.

Over the years, Derek got used to Stiles coming to his loft whenever he felt like it. It doesn't bother Derek at all that Stiles will stay over: he's even pleased about it. They climb the stairs side by side in silence, and when Derek opens his door, Stiles slumps on his couch.

"Oh god."

"Just for the record," Derek says, pouring himself a glass of water. "You did great today."

Stiles scoffs, lying down on the couch and putting an arm over his eyes.

"It was horrible."

"I know."

Stiles doesn't lift his arm, but nods. "Yeah."

Remembering Kira's words, Derek almost offers food but when he comes back from his bedroom after having changed, Stiles is asleep on the couch. Derek drapes a blanket over him, and delicately puts Stiles pillow under his head.

Once again, Derek is hit with a deep desire to protect the boy at all costs. He takes a moment to observe Stiles, and even though he's young enough that there's still a vulnerability to him, he's definitely not a kid anymore. Stiles is solid, with wide shoulders and lean muscles.

The low thrum of attraction that hits Derek isn't new. They've been friends for years, and there's always been a little more, too, a pull that they haven't acted on. At first, Derek didn't even consider it since Stiles was too young. Even if he suspects the interest is reciprocated, without the confirmation of the chemosignals it's always in Derek's head to let Stiles make the first move, but but lately he's been wondering about it more and more. Now's not the time, though.

It's early evening by this point, and even if it's not the ideal time for a nap, Derek is glad Stiles is sleeping at all. With a last glance and a lot of self-restraint not to card his fingers in Stiles' hair, Derek retreats to his room to read. Frankly, he has no focus. He keeps zoning out, listening to Stiles' breathing in the living room. The emotional toll of the day has proved to be taxing on him too, because Derek gives up around nine, washes up and goes to bed where he falls asleep almost immediately.

**

Children’s voices and music wake Derek up the next morning, and, still groggy with sleep, he's totally confused until he realizes it's the TV in the living room. He stretches and gets up, puts on pajama pants he finds in a bottom drawer and goes down the spiral staircase to the main room.

"Hey," Derek says, attracting Stiles' attention.

He's swaddled in the blanket, only his head is visible, his hair going every which way. He seems rested, at least a little bit.

"Morning," Stiles says. "Ah, shit, did I wake you?"

Derek goes to the kitchen and shrugs along the way.

"It's fine, I'm usually up at this time." It's even surprising that he managed to sleep so deeply that Stiles didn't wake him up moving around.

He starts breakfast, cracking eggs in a skillet, adding a couple more than usual for Stiles without even asking, and then pops some bread in the toaster. Derek has orange juice in the morning, but there's a coffee maker that Peter brought in time, so he loads it up with water and ground beans that he keeps in the freezer. Soon enough, the smell of food and caffeine bring Stiles into the kitchen. He's in sweatpants, t-shirt and a flannel shirt, and even though he left the blanket in the living room, he still looks soft around the edges.

In silence, Derek puts a plate together and pushes it towards Stiles, soon followed by a cup of coffee. Stiles stares at it for a while, blinking, and Derek doesn't push, just puts a fork by the plate as he digs into his own breakfast. The eggs are a little overdone for his taste, but making the coffee had distracted him.

It's when Stiles stomach growls, loudly, that he finally springs into action and starts eating. By Derek's count, it's the first time in close to 24 hours.

When Derek finishes, he gets up to rinse his plate and glass. He hesitates on the best way to deal with Stiles. Should he offer to take him home? Or just go through his usual routine? The latter wins and Derek goes out on the balcony to stretch. After the usual push-ups, pull-ups and crunches he's been doing since he started middle school, Derek transitions into the yoga poses he added to the mix in the last few years. Yoga's been great for flexibility, as Lydia had suggested. He's quickly mastered the beginner poses and these days he tends to favor anything that gives him a challenge, whether it be in balance or core strength. He goes through the whole routine, then stretches again, body pleasantly warm and a little achy, at least for now.

Derek has no idea what will come next, but that's okay. He'll adapt, he's pretty good at it. When he comes back in, Stiles is lying on his side on the couch, still watching cartoons. Or maybe not, he doesn’t seem to be tracking the action. Derek lets him be, goes to shower and change. He's not surprised that Stiles hasn't moved when he comes back down. Derek brought his book from his bedroom. He takes a seat in the armchair besides the couch and continues where he nodded off the night before.

A couple of chapters in, Derek is distracted by the feeling of being watched. Stiles' heartbeat has sped up, too. When he looks up, he meets Stiles eyes, who's now flopped to his belly, arms crossed over his pillow to support his chin, and is staring a him.

"Why?" Stile asks.

It's blunt, but Stiles rarely beats around the bush.

"Because you're pack," Derek answers immediately.

It's true that he would have tried to help anyone in the group, but it's also more than that. That it was Stiles made it a no brainer. He wanted to be by his side and didn't feel as if he was obligated to, especially not because of pack politics.

Stiles nods, but pushes more. "Who appointed you babysitter?"

"No one."

He looks more skeptical about that.

"We're friends," Derek says, making it as much a declaration as he can. They have been for years. "And I don't take your shit."

Stiles snort laughs. "True. The 'tough love' approach, huh?"

"Something like that," Derek says. "Are you done being an asshole to everyone?"

He grimaces. "Not sure. They better stay away until I get my need to lash out under control."

"For their own good, huh?" Derek says, once again seeing himself so clearly in Stiles, in the first months after the fire. He'd closed up and bristled like a porcupine, to Laura's infinite frustration.

"Yes, for their own good," Stiles says, calm and sure. "I might not have the muscles to physically hurt them, but believe me…"

He doesn’t complete his sentence, but yes, Derek gets it. Some people wield words like knives, and can inflict wounds that never quite heal. Kate was gifted at that, and he has seen first hand only yesterday how cruel Stiles can be.

"Whatever you need," Derek says, shrugging a shoulder.

"How long?" Stiles asks.

"You can stay here as long as you want," he replies.

Stiles makes a frustrated sound. "No, no. How long until it stops feeling as if Earth is spinning the wrong way?"

And fuck. Isn't that the million dollars question?

"You expect me to know that? For you?"

"Point," Stiles concedes. "Okay, then, how long did it take you?"

Derek has never talked about his grief to anyone beside Laura, who was the only one in the whole world who could maybe understand losing pretty much all of your pack to Hunters. His first reaction is to refuse answering on the basis that it's none of Stiles’ business, but he has a feeling that Stiles is pushing those buttons to get a reaction out of him.

"It's still spinning the wrong way," Derek admits. "But I learned to live with it."

Stiles makes a loud buzzer sound. "Wrong answer," he adds, annoyed.

"Oh, I'm sorry!" Derek says, fake sweetly. "I forgot to lie."

"Maybe you should have," Stiles says with a huff, moving on the couch to petulantly check the television once more.

"What do you want me to say?" Derek asks. "Platitudes? I've got them. Seems impossible right now, but time will help. It's sad, but you are still alive and must go on." He can't help it, he's getting angry. All of the emotions of the last week, seeing Stiles and the pack hurt, dealing with his own grief for the death over the Sheriff, it took a toll on him too. He's starting to raise his voice. "Oh and my favorite. They would have wanted you to be happy, no matter what," he adds, voice full of sarcasm. God he hated that one even if he came to accept that it was in fact the truth.

As he spoke Stiles has been mumbling the same two words over and over but this time he cries out, face red with anger and pointing at Derek's face.

"Shut up!"

"What, that's not what you wanted to hear either?" he shouts back. "Sorry!"

Stiles' plan to stay away so he wouldn't say something that would do too much damage sounds about perfect right now. Derek turns around and goes for the door, shoves his feet in his boots even without socks, and takes his key and his jacket.

"I'm going for a ride," he declares, not even looking back.

**

It takes Derek less than 15 minutes to decompress. Yes, Stiles is being a brat, has been for the better part of the time they've interacted since the Sheriff died, but his life just got upturned. It's still new, raw. His reactions are totally understandable, and Derek should have been more patient. That's why he usually doesn't volunteer to deal with people, he's bad at it. As an apology gesture, Derek stops for drive thru and brings back a couple of burgers and fries to the loft. He's not even completely up the stairs when he realizes Stiles has left, his heartbeat not in hearing range.

Derek sighs, and a quick look around the living room shows that Stiles packed his stuff and left. He really messed up that one, then. He turns around and goes back to his car. It's been less than an hour, he should catch up to Stiles rapidly. One street, then the other, and Derek doesn't see him walking and starts to worry. Maybe Stiles is not going back to his house. What if he decided to go anywhere but there? If he lost Stiles, Scott will kill him. Derek is relieved when he gets to the Stilinski house and spots Stiles on his own front porch, sitting on the steps with his head on folded arms, bag by his feet. He must have caught a lift, to be here already.

He hesitates, maybe Stiles needs time alone, but in the end he can't leave things like they are right now. Derek parks the car in the driveway, then brings the takeaway bags with him as he sits down on the stairs by Stiles' side. He puts the food down on the ground, in Stiles' line of sight.

"I never asked you to leave," Derek says, grabbing a burger for himself.

Stiles keeps his head on his arms, but he has twisted his head to the side, watching him warily.

"I figured you'd finally had enough of me."

"Nah," he says.

That makes the corner of Stiles mouth lift a little. "Nah?"

Derek makes sure to make eye contact. "Never," he declares.

He means it, too. He can't see the day where he'd turn his back on this guy.

Stiles blinks, visibly surprised. There's something a bit solemn between them, and Derek doesn't think Stiles needs to worry about what it could mean, what Derek is starting to realize himself. It's not the time to talk about feelings, and what they could eventually become if Stiles wants it, too. Derek draws back and takes a bite from his burger, only to find it almost cold. He must scrunch his nose in disgust or something because Stiles scoffs in amusement.

"Sorry your lunch got cold because of me," Stiles says.

"Yours did too," Derek replies, pushing the bag towards Stiles with the tip of his shoe.

He does take the bag, sample a fry and makes a face too. "Uh. Yeah. I'd offer to get the fryer going and dip them in for a revival, but I'm not sure I can."

"Operate a fryer?" Derek had no idea such a kitchen appliance even existed in this house, with Stiles almost iron control on the Sheriff's diet.

"No. Get in the house," he looks back at the door and shudders. "God. I'm afraid to go in my own house, this is pathetic."

"You're not afraid, you just don't want to right now."

Not to face the memories, the emptiness.

"I told you that you are welcome at my place," Derek adds.

"Or I could skip town," Stiles says.

Derek can't fault him. It had been his and Laura's reaction too, and he understands the deep desire to just let everything drop and go. It's also a huge decision, and Stiles is vulnerable right now.

"Do you have relatives you could visit?" Derek asks.

"No."

They lapse into silence, and Derek puts the remains of his burger in the bag, as he's not hungry anymore. He's torn between trying to convince Stiles to stay in Beacon Hills where he has a support system and letting him do what he feels he needs to do.

"Are you serious about this?" Derek asks.

"I've been thinking about it a lot," Stiles admits. "This place, this town, it doesn't feel like mine anymore. At least not for now."

"You’d leave by yourself?" That's what worries Derek, if he's honest.

Stiles smirks. "What, are you volunteering your company?"

"Yes," Derek replies immediately. He doesn't even need to think about it.

It seems he managed to shock Stiles once more, who gapes at him. But then he scowls.

"I don't need a babysitter or a bodyguard."

Derek laughs. And laughs some more because the need to know that Stiles remains safe is part of it, but it's not the main reason he offered to join him. Stiles doesn't look angry anymore, in fact he's making faces.

"What's happening? What the hell, Derek, you do not laugh. Stop it, you are freaking me out."

He wipes the tears under his eyes. "Jesus Christ, Stiles, you think Beacon Hills, of all fucking places, feels like mine?"

"But you came back!" Stiles argues. "You left with Cora, and then a bit with Braeden, but you came back!"

"Because Scott called. Said he needed my help. Helping you assholes is the only reason I stayed after Laura."

"But Beacon Hills is your territory," Stiles insists.

"Of course," Derek admits. "My family…" Some ties don't get severed that easily, and even he can't explain that. "There's something here, that's true. But I wouldn't mind a break. Do you plan on never coming back?"

Derek can't quite believe that. Sure Stiles lost his dad, but he has lots of close friends here, a pack, he can't see him just leave and be done forever.

"Who knows," Stiles says with a shrug.

He doesn't answer, just sits back, thinking about his own experience. When he and Laura left Beacon Hills, they were scared the hunters who'd burned the house down would get them too. Derek didn't admit his affair with Kate to Laura right from the start, but she knew that the fire wasn't an accident, that they were targeted for being werewolves. Also the overwhelming barrage of embarrassed sympathy and pity from everyone in town was too much. The Hales were maybe not as well known in the community as the Sheriff, but a tragedy of that magnitude generates unhealthy curiosity. As soon as the funerals were done, and the care of Peter set up, they were more than happy to skip town. The long drive East was a blur for Derek, but he could only breathe – and just a little at that – when he finally faced the Atlantic ocean, by Nantucket.

Stiles brings him back from his walk through memory lane when he suddenly stands up and starts pacing, as much as the porch lets him. He's chewing on the skin around a thumb, heartbeat slightly more elevated than normal. Derek stands up, too, and Stiles stops right in front of him and stares him in the eyes.

"Were you serious? You'd leave with me?"

He does stands behind what he said earlier: he'd follow Stiles anywhere without reservation.

"Yes," Derek says.

"Where to?" he asks.

"Anywhere you want to go."

As simple as that.

Stiles stares into his eyes, searching for any sign of deception, or concealed pity. Of course, he won't find any, and once again Derek wishes Stiles could hear heartbeats too, and know how to differentiate truth from lies.

What he reads on Derek's face must be satisfactory because he nods.

"Okay."

**

It takes two weeks to get everything in order. Stiles wants to just pack another bag and leave, but Derek insists he does things properly. He contacts Rosa and explains the situation, so that they don't think he went missing. Derek also makes sure the insurance and will are mostly dealt with. They talk to the neighbors to keep a watch on the house, and the exterior, so it doesn't look abandoned.

On the last day, Stiles finally enters his home again to tackle the extraordinarily difficult task of going though his father belongings to decide what he keeps – it fits in a couple of boxes that he puts in the attic - and Derek then packs the rest for Goodwill. Derek can't help but think that at least Stiles is able to pick and choose his mementos, and didn't get everything or close to it obliterated in a fire. It also reminds Derek that he never went back to his and Laura's condo in New York to do the same with Laura's belongings, too afraid he'd break down. Instead of dealing with the situation, he's been paying the hefty rent for three whole years with the excuse that he might go back one day. He knows he won't.

That night, Stiles is silent, swaddled in his blanket on Derek's couch and staring towards the television. Derek lets him be and retreats to his room to give him space. They are supposed to leave in the morning, and that's when Derek calls Scott.

It picks up after only one ring.

"Is everything okay?" Scott asks.

"As much as it can be," Derek replies. "Did he call you?"

"No," Scott says with a sigh. "Haven't talked to him since the church."

Derek winces. He'd hoped that Stiles had at least told Scott he was leaving. Stiles might be angry, but Derek can't leave without a word with good conscience. It's a given that Derek acts as backup if there's trouble, and Scott needs to know he won't be able to count on him.

"Stiles needs a change of air. We're leaving tomorrow."

"A weekend out? Yeah, I can see how that could do some good. Where are you going?" Scott asks, so innocent.

"It's more of a road trip. I don't know how long yet… weeks, maybe more," Derek says.

"What?" Scott reacts.

"He wants to go. I think it will help."

"Of course you would."

That sounded a little dismissive and patronizing. Yeah Derek, we know, when the going get tough you run away. It raises Derek's hackles.

"I see," Derek says. Well, if Scott wants to play that game, he can shut him off too.

"Fuck, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that," Scott says.

"Yes, you did."

"It's so sudden! I'm freaking out a little here," Scott pleads.

"It wasn't my idea," Derek clarifies. "He's going anyway. I'm just along for the ride."

"Shit. Listen, Derek… I'm glad he won't be alone. Really fucking glad. You'll keep an eye on him, right?"

"Of course. You know I'd die to protect him." Okay, that's maybe a little intense, but still accurate.

"I know that. But not just physical protection."

"I'm not a shrink, Scott," Derek says. "I can't help."

"It's obvious to me that you have been helping. A lot. He's let you in, you must be doing something right!"

He quite likes the idea that he's seen by the pack as the Stiles whisperer, but they don't seem to realize how hard it is to stay in the bubble, or at least closely adjacent to it.

"I hope so."

"Do you think you could text or call me from time to time? Say where you're at, what you've seen, how you guys are doing?"

The 'you guys' is welcome. It makes Derek feel like Scott actually gives a fuck about him, too, not just as a protector.

"Sure."

"Thank you," Scott says, relieved. "I hope he finds what he's looking for."

"Yeah, me too," Derek says.

"Have a nice trip," Scott says.

"Stay safe," Derek says. He knows that by skipping town, he might be making Scott more vulnerable.

"We will, thanks," Scott says.

***

They take Derek's car, only because it's less susceptible to fall apart on the first day. By now, Stiles’ Jeep is almost half duct tape.

"What if we want to split up?" Stiles asks, as they argue about it.

It won't happen, if Derek has any say about it.

"I'll buy you one," Derek says.

"Really?" Stiles says, with a half smile.

"Why not? It sure won't be hard to find a used car more reliable than your Jeep."

"Go to hell. I wanted to take it for sentimental reasons, but I can get behind your reasoning," he says as they finish packing.

Derek doesn't need much to get by as they travel, and he's leaving the rest in the loft. He made arrangement so the place isn't disturbed while he's gone, and hired a supervisor in case one of his tenants have complaints about their apartment.

When they are ready to leave, Derek has a light duffel bag and his leather jacket on his back while Stiles is in a plain red t-shirt, carrying a backpack with a few changes of clothes. Anyway, if they need something along the way, they can always buy it. It reminds Derek of leaving Beacon Hills with Cora after the Alpha pack, Jennifer and the Nemeton, but he puts that thought aside. Right now he's leaving with Stiles and he'll see where it leads them.

Derek slides the door shut, locks it, and decides to put the rest in the hands of fate. He'll deal with whatever happens from now on when it comes, and not one minute before.

Once their luggage is in the car and the gas tank is full, Derek turns to Stiles.

"Where are we going?"

"Anywhere but here," he says. "Just shut up and drive."

Derek floors it, and feels pleased when Stiles truly smiles for the first time in weeks.

***

With no directions stated, Derek aims the car South towards Sacramento. It takes him a good hour to realize he's taking the exact same road that Laura chose back when they left Beacon Hills 9 years ago. Stiles isn't aware of it, and frankly he doesn't seem to care. He's silent on the passenger side, looking out of his window.

They cross to Nevada near Reno, stop for lunch, and roll on south even after dinner. Derek drives on until it's dark, and then some. When Stiles just doesn't come out and ask for a break, Derek decides for him and turns into the parking lot of a motel in the suburbs of Las Vegas. He's not tired, not yet, but it would give absolutely nothing to wrap the car around a lamppost.

Stopping the car near the office is what seems to shake Stiles out of his trance.

"I'm going to get a room," Derek says and he nods.

The clerk, bored and ready to go back to whatever he was doing on his phone, does raise an eyebrow when Derek asks for one room but two beds.

"Nobody cares, man," he says, typing on the computer. "For 50 bucks you can have all of the adults channels unscrambled, too."

"No," Derek says, hating that his ears feel hot with embarrassment.

"So, for one hour? Two? " he asks.

Derek bends down, looks at the guy. "We're passing through. So one night, ALL night, and a check out time sometime tomorrow morning. Two beds, a non-smoking room if you have that, and no pets. Is that clear?"

The guy looks and smells a little more nervous, now, and he should. Finally, he raises both hands in the air, letting go.

"Sure, sure, you're the boss," the clerk says with a shrug, and gives him the keys.

Derek snatches them and hopes that no one witnessed the last two minutes. He guesses it's not the last time they'll attract those kinds of comments.

"Was there a problem?" Stiles asks, when he comes back to the car.

"Not at all," Derek says.

Stiles takes the first shower, and when Derek comes out after his turn, he's fast asleep. In the relative silence of the room, save for Stiles' breathing and the cars on the highway, it takes a while for Derek to follow.

**

They drive around Arizona for several days, and Derek regularly stops and insists on hikes, to Stiles' obvious displeasure. Stiles stops complaining when he is forced to admit that he's sleeping better and has more energy after some physical exercise instead of just sitting in the car.

The scenery is beautiful and after getting frustrated one too many times by the poor quality of the camera on his phone, Derek buys a real one. Stiles looks at him weird, as if he's surprised that Derek could do something as trivial as taking a picture in a tourist spot. Derek didn't appreciate the landscape the first time around, he was too buried in his self-loathing to care. Then, when he made his way back from New York, he was so worried about Laura that he didn't give a fuck, driving night and day. Right now, Stiles is pretty much in the same frame of mind, looking bored as he follows Derek around.

The sun is setting and if it was quite busy earlier, they seem to be the last people left observing the Anasazi petroglyphs scratched in the canyon, or so it seems. It's been an interesting hike as Stiles reads along from a guidebook he found, but interspersed the commentary with his own interpretation of the glyphs. The view in the end, with the sunset coloring the rock and the ponds in the canyon, is textbook pretty. They should get back before it's too dark, though, and avoid the possibility of Stiles turning an ankle on a loose rock even though this is an easy trail.

"I bet this place would echo something fierce," Stiles says, out of the blue.

"Probably."

"Everything sucks!" Stiles yells and indeed the sound ricochets on the rock, amplified, before coming back in waves. Under his scent shield, Stiles still holds on tight to his rage, but this is a start to process it.

"Don't you have anything to say?" he asks Derek.

He might just do. Derek takes a deep breath and roars, putting in all of his rage for the death of his family, the betrayals he suffered, the loss of Laura, Erica, Boyd. It's primal, comes from the bottom of his gut and the reverberation in the canyon makes it echo in a way that is mournful and sad. All of the wildlife in hearing radius scatters, from birds taking flight, lizards scrambling off rocks to mice running to take cover into their tunnels.

When Derek finally opens his eyes as the echo dies down– he hadn't even realized he'd closed them – Stiles is looking at him with huge eyes.

"Okay, then."

Nerves rubbed raw, Derek needs a minute to himself. "You don't have the monopoly on hurting, you know," he says, and then gives Stiles his keys and the camera. "Take the car, I'll get back to the motel by myself."

He goes for a run, chasing the remnant of the echo. The primal scream – best description for it – has proved to be pretty liberating. Derek climbs to the top of the canyon, and waits for the moon to rise. It's quiet, deep in the desert, and the air soon turns sharp and cold. Quickly, Derek gets out of his clothes, put them near a recognizable boulder, and shifts. Once in the wolf’s skin he howls again, animal and free, and hears the answering yips of coyotes in the distance. He runs and hunts rabbits, freeing his mind of all the worries for Stiles and how to help him get better. For the first time in weeks, Derek takes a few hours for himself, just to be, in a canyon under the moon.

The night is almost ending when he gets back to his clothes, and then makes his way to the motel. He's careful opening the door, but Stiles is awake, though he says nothing. Derek goes to take a long shower, hot water pounding on his aching back muscles (too long in the full shifts makes him stiff when he comes back to the human form). The motel's soap smells particularly flowery, not to Derek's taste at all, and it makes him remember that he needs to buy more of his favorite shower gel. He's tempted to reach for Stiles' shaving kid and borrow his, Stiles would probably not even notice and it would be nice to smell like him. He doesn't. When Derek comes out of the bathroom, dawn has broken. Going to bed is tempting, but he doesn't really need it.

"What about an early start today?" he proposes.

"I don't mind," Stiles says.

"Get up, then," Derek says. "You're driving. I'll go buy breakfast while you get ready."

He doesn't even wait for an answer, grabs his bag and leaves it near the trunk before walking to the gas station on the other side of the road. He buys a big coffee, adds two milks and four sugars like he knows Stiles takes it, and chooses a packet of donuts that don't smell too stale. There are a couple of bananas on the counter that he adds, then the biggest water bottle they have. By the time he pays, he can hear Stiles parking the car near the pumps, and Derek tells the half-awake clerk to add forty dollars of gas on top.

After Stiles finishes filling gas, they take a seat at a picnic table right next to the station. Stiles is fidgety, and Derek reconsiders the life choice of buying him a large coffee. Hopefully, driving will take the nervous edge off him.

Right now, though, Stiles crams at least four mini donuts in his mouth at the same time, spraying powdered sugar everywhere. It's those kinds of habits that made Derek enforce the no-food-in-the-car-ever rule. Derek pointedly grabs the napkins he took at the coffee-making counter and slides them over. Stiles rolls his eyes, but dusts off most of the potential sticky mess from his face and hands. When he manages to swallow it all, he taps his fingers on the table, looks at Derek sideways, and then finally says what is on his mind.

"About yesterday, in the canyon-"

Derek raises a hand to stop the words. The eyebrows are just for emphasis.

"Stop right there," he says. "You know better."

He doesn't need stilted apologies or expression of sympathy. Stiles knows first hand how it's unwelcome, he should have gotten by now that it's better to stay silent.

"Okay." Stiles takes a deep breath. "What did you do?"

Derek sips some water, and figures it's okay to share.

"Full shift. Ran a lot, it was good."

Stiles smirks. "Did you catch a rabbit?"

"Uh huh," Derek says, taking the last bite of his banana. The jackrabbit had been a fun challenge. He's not shifting nearly enough to hone his hunting skills, and instinct only goes so far. He had got it in the end, anyway, so there.

"Which explains the light breakfast," Stiles says, smiling now and pointing at the banana peal.

It's been a while since he's seen Stiles smile like this. This road trip was definitely a good idea.

"Got me there."

Stiles takes a gulp of coffee, and he's still watching him with interest.

"Take a picture, it will last longer," Derek mumbles, uneasy with the scrutiny.

"Maybe I will. Does it hurt?"

"The full shift? Not really, no." It felt weird at first, especially the bones reconfiguring and hair sprouting. But the mix of power and zen that comes with the transformation erases that discomfort almost immediately. "In fact, it feels pretty good."

"Then why didn't you shift more outside of battles? I think I can count on my fingers the times I saw you as a wolf in the last two years."

Frankly? Derek always cherished the full shift as something deeply personal, a connection to his mom and Laura, who had managed it about a year after turning Alpha. He doesn't feel the need to show it off, so Derek turns into a wolf among the pack only when needed, and as briefly as possible.

"I'm not a curiosity," Derek offers.

There is a bit of that, too. The admiration he got after that first time had been heady, but he rapidly had enough. As a wolf he was the same person, and didn't want to be cooed at because it was cool. Even less to be looked at as a freak.

"Come on," Stiles says. "The novelty would have worn out fast if you hadn't been so secretive about it."

He might have a point. Derek shrugs and drains his water bottle.

"Besides, cool is cool, that's all," Stiles adds.

Derek smirks. "Did you just say something I can do is cool?"

"Lots of things you can do because of your wolfitude are cool; that one especially," Stiles says. "You as a person, though… not so much."

That's more like it. Insults, it's a thing between them, always has been.

"Shut up," Derek says, getting up to put his trash in the bin near the station. "Are we going or not?"

"Sure," Stiles says, teasing. "Always evading the hard truths. It's sad."

He dusts off most of the remaining powdered sugar and drains his coffee, following Derek to the car. The darn thing was super hot, Derek has no idea how Stiles managed to drink it so fast without the benefit of healing. Derek climbs in the passenger seat, and as he buckles up, Stiles looks more animated that he has been in weeks.

"You should have said if you wanted to drive," Derek says.

"I didn't know it was an option," Stiles says.

Derek frowns. "Why the heck not?"

"You never let me drive your car before!" Stiles says, turning East on the 40.

"That's because the few times you were in my car, you were either too concussed or hurt to drive, moron," Derek says, closing his eyes. He's tired, a nap sounds nice right now.

"Well, it's not like I had a burning desire to drive your soccer mom car," Stiles says, fiddling with the radio. He leaves it on a country station, though he's considerate enough to turn the sound way low.

Eyes still closed, Derek flips him the bird. His FJ Cruiser is a good functional car and he never understood why everyone gave him shit about it.

"Now if it was the Camaro…" Stiles trails off, sounding wistful.

Derek cracks a smile. "You wish. But who knows, if I ever take it out of storage-"

"What? You still have the Camaro?" Stiles exclaims.

"Nah." It was just too hard to have Laura's car in his face all the time. Now that the pain dulled, he wishes he had kept it.

"You asshole," Stiles says. "I fantasized, for a second. That was one sexy car."

"Terrible gas millage," Derek says, eyes closed, already starting to feel heavier.

"Oh my god, you are such an old geezer. And cheap," Stiles says. "Gas millage?"

"Yeah. Ever heard of the environment?" He's just trying to wind Stiles up by this point.

"Fuck you. If you really cared about climate change, you wouldn't have bought a SUV."

"Touché," Derek admits.

He leans his head on the window, but it's uncomfortable, so he sighs and slouches in his seat as much as possible, trying to relax. Stiles has stopped talking for now, just drumming the beat of the music on the steering wheel, and soon Derek starts to nod off, losing reality maybe seconds at a time, only to jerk back to consciousness when his head gets too heavy. There's also the matter that he feels like he'll fall asleep and his jaw will fall open, with possible drooling, which isn't a good look for anyone. Maybe, hitting the road before sleeping a little wasn't his best idea. It would be a waste of money to rent something else now, not if they indeed want to make some distance today, and he's too tall to fit comfortably in the back seat. Unless...

"Stop the car."

Stiles jumps in surprise. "What?"

"Pull over to the side of the road for a second," Derek says, yawning. He really needs to sleep.

"Are you okay? Is it the rabbit coming back up? Are you one of those control freaks who get nauseated when they don't drive?" Stiles asks, but thankfully he does as he's told and stops on the side of the road.

Derek gets out and opens the door to the back of the car, tells Stiles to get back in his seat and drive, he's going to take a nap.

"Oh," Stiles says. "Okay."

As he thought, he can't lay down comfortably, so he starts stripping out of his clothes. He's being observed in the rear view mirror and Stiles' heart is starting to beat faster. Especially when Derek wiggles to take off his pants.

"What are you doing?"

"Getting out of my clothes."

"I can see that!" Stiles says, a little shrilly.

Derek has no idea why he's so disturbed by this. There's a blanket on the back seat, so Derek pulls it over his lap when he takes off his underwear to, hopefully, make it less awkward.

"If I don't, I often rip my clothes," Derek says.

"Oh," Stiles says, finally getting it. "You're shifting?"

"Yeah. Happy? You were complaining how I didn't shift enough earlier," Derek says.

He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath and… pulls. It has to come from the back of his skull, then it overwhelms everything as his body reconfigures.

"Holy shit, that never cease to be amazing," Stiles says, eyes glued to the rear mirror. It's good that the road is deserted in this part of the desert.

"And I didn't complain that you didn't shift enough," Stiles says. "That's your choice, whatever. I was wondering why you didn't do it more if it felt good."

He's a good size wolf, but he's definitely going to fit on the back seat pretty comfortably. Derek stretches, then lies down, pulling the blanket over his back with his teeth. It's not that he's cold, in fact with the fur he's always a little hot in this form, but he never slept as a wolf and he doesn't know if he'll shift back unexpectedly. Wouldn't want to offend Stiles' apparent sensibility.

"Oh my god, you are so cute!" Stiles says with a laugh, still spying his every move.

Derek growls, hoping to make clear he doesn't want to be referred to as 'cute' in any circumstance, but unfortunately, his posturing is cut off by a huge yawn that make Stiles laugh even more.

"Stop trying to be scary, you're not. Go to sleep, you obviously need it."

Derek huffs and puts his head on his paws. The sound of the tires on the asphalt is soothing and barely seconds later he's out like a light.

**

He wakes overheated and with the vague feeling that something's not right. He's too sluggish to open his eyes just yet but his ears work just fine.

"Cool, thanks Marcy, we'll look into it!"

It's Stiles, and Derek relaxes at the familiarity. Until he realizes that Stiles is out of the car, which is not moving anymore. He sits up abruptly looking out the window and a short brunette yelps in surprise, jumping away from the car.

"Oh my god, your dog is huge!"

Derek squints at her, and Stiles smiles.

"Yeah, but he's just a marshmallow," he says, as the girl steps closer to have a better look, this hopeful look on her face as if she wants to pet him.

He shows teeth and raises the hair on his back, which is pretty effective to make her reconsider. She stops, smile dropping a little. The smell of fear is satisfying.

"Oh."

"He doesn't like strangers, sorry," Stiles says, making eyes at him as if he should have let her. No way. "Be nice to Marcy, she had great suggestions for what to see in New Mexico."

"It's okay, pretty boy," Marcy says soothingly and he shows more teeth, which makes Stiles grin even wider. "He's gorgeous. What's his name?"

"Derek," Stiles says.

Good choice. If Stiles had called him a stupid name, Derek had been ready to jump out and bite him. In fact, he wants to get out anyway, so he noses the door handle until it opens and slips out. He doesn't miss how Marcy steps back, closer to Stiles. She now smells nervous but still a bit afraid.

"Wow, he opens doors? That's impressive."

"I swear, he learns that stuff by himself," Stiles says, probably finding himself funny.

" What breed is it? He looks like a wolf! God, he's even bigger than I thought."

Derek stretches, then sits near the car. At least Stiles had left it under a tree, with all four windows completely opened.

"He's half wolf, in fact," Stiles says. "He looks just like his mother, or so I've been told."

That is true, from what Derek managed to see from his reflection on water. He wishes Stiles wouldn't use that in jokes, though.

"Very cool," she says, and she's taking out her phone, which can only mean she'll want to take a picture and no, no, Derek immediately slips back in the car.

"Sorry, he's camera shy. Can't take a good picture of him to save my life," Stiles says, and closes the door behind Derek, who's ready to dive under the blanket if Marcy comes to the window. "We've got to go, thanks again for the tips."

"It was great meeting you, Stiles," Marcy says. "Have a nice trip. And pet him for me!"

Stiles laughs. "I'll try!"

Derek growls, though for Stiles' benefit only, who shushes him.

Two minutes later, they are back on the road and Derek is considering turning back just to give Stiles a piece of his mind.

"Sorry, I really had to stop to pee, that coffee just wanted out. Marcy saw me looking at the flyers inside the rest area and made a couple of suggestions. I had no idea she'd walk with me to the car."

Derek huffs, lying down on the back seat again. He's still tired, but he's not sure he'll fall asleep as easily as before.

"Can I put on record that it's kind of unfair that you are just as much of a babe magnet as an actual wolf? At least you could play my wingman instead of scaring them away."

He growls at that, loudly, because if there's one thing he never wants to be is Stiles wingman.

Stiles laughs. "Just kidding."

After fiddling with the radio, Stiles sets it on a top forty station and starts humming along.

**

When he wakes next, Derek is hungry. Up front, Stiles is quiet, nodding to the radio. He looks more at peace today, though it's far from happy or even content, or at least what Derek can detect without chemosignals. His melancholic mood suddenly turns grief stricken when the first bars of 'Stairways to Heaven' starts and Stiles viciously slaps the radio off. Derek supposes it must be either too literal for Stiles or have been a favorite of the Sheriff. Derek, who feels well rested now, starts shifting back to human.

"Oh my god!" Stiles exclaims, swerving in the middle of the road when he notices. "A little warning, maybe?"

"Funny, I was thinking the same earlier," Derek says, pulling up his boxers.

"I called your name but you were sleeping too deep. I thought I'd come back, get back on the road and you wouldn't even have noticed," Stiles says.

Derek finishes dressing as Stiles pulls over. He goes back to the front of the car and Stiles eases back on the road.

"So, better?" he asks.

"Yes."

"I'm glad…"

Stiles trails off and Derek's curiosity is piqued. He doesn't ask, figures that Stiles will find the words when they come.

"It's cool that you're comfortable to shift with me," he finally says.

"You've never been the problem," Derek says honestly.

"Really?"

"A wolf thing, I guess. Don't want to rub it in Scott's face, though I guess being bitten it doesn't mean the same to him."

Stiles nods, then slowly smiles. "You should have rubbed it in Peter's face more."

It surprises a laugh out of Derek. He won't lie, he loved the envy on Peter's face every single time. "Frankly, I worried it would make him want to kill me."

"No shit," Stiles said. "I didn't need the super sniffer to feel the envy."

"Yeah."

They lapse into silence for a while.

"So, what did Marcy suggest?"

"The Chaco Culture National Historical Park for more Anasazi stuff, if we go North towards Colorado, or if we go South instead, the White Sands National Park, with gypsum sand dunes."

"Doesn't sound so bad," Derek admits.

"Of course it sounds good to you, you're a nerd," Stiles teases. "So, which one?"

Derek huffs – he loves history, that's all - and then shrugs. "Whatever. Both."

"Really?" Stiles asks.

"Why not."

They're driving with no real end destination in mind, anyway, so those places sound as good as anything.

 

**

"You know what I need right now?" Stiles says two days later, lying down on his bed and looking at the stained ceiling of their motel room.

"I can't read minds, so no," Derek replies.

They've ate, washed up, and normally by this time Derek goes to bed while Stiles puts the TV on low, and listens to whatever plays on late night, even if it's infomercials.

"I want to get drunk."

It probably has something to do with the fact that Thanksgiving is in two days, and that Stiles doesn't want to think about it. Holidays, especially those that are family oriented, are always difficult. As for getting drunk, frankly, Derek never got the appeal, probably because he never could sustain a good buzz, however hard he tried. He's seen a lot of drunk people, and he cannot really understand how being intoxicated to the point of losing physical control is any fun.

"And how do you plan on achieving that?" Derek asks. Stiles is 19, so technically an adult, but no way does he pass as 21 in order to jump over the drinking age hurdle.

"Does that mean you won't do a liquor run for me?" Stiles asks. He has the gall to look hopeful.

"I don't think so."

Stiles sighs. "I had a feeling. Well, don't wait up," he says, getting up.

"What?" Derek sits up, too, putting his book on the bed.

"Don't play stupid. You've seen the bar across the street. I'm going there to have a few drinks."

Of course Derek noticed, in fact he can hear the music playing, mostly old classic rock. He even wondered if it would be an annoyance when trying to sleep. From the row of motorcycles that are lining the place, and the sharp crack of plastic on plastic he keeps hearing, it's probably more of a pool joint than any kind of dance club. Derek frankly doesn't feel like going out, but he slides out of bed and starts putting his jeans back on.

"And where do you think you are going?" Stiles asks, arms crossed over his chest.

"The bar?" Derek says, slowly. He doesn't know what the problem is.

"Do you want to come?" Stiles asks, raising an eyebrow.

"Not really, but-"

"I told you I don't need a babysitter or a bodyguard," Stiles interrupts. He looks mad, something that hadn't happened in a few days. "I can go across the street by myself."

Derek raises his hands in surrender. "Okay, okay."

He doesn't want Stiles to feel trapped, or under surveillance. He meant it when he said he wanted to come along for the ride just to be in it. "Call me if there's anything."

Stiles rolls his eyes. "It's just a regular bar, in a regular town."

"And you're a magnet for trouble," Derek says, getting back in bed.

"Yeah yeah."

It takes everything for Derek to stay in bed instead of following Stiles to the bar. He listens closely, can even hear him enter, but then everything is drowned out by the music. Derek picks up his book again, but he can't focus at all. At one point, he thinks he hears Stiles laugh, but it might just be his imagination. At least there is no hint of fighting, and Derek's pretty sure that if Stiles shouted for him, he'd know. But as Stiles said, it's a regular bar in a regular town, so the only action happens when two guys come out of the bar insulting each other – about a girl, why is Derek not surprised – until one of them gets in his car and drives away.

At one o'clock in the morning, Derek wonders how pissed Stiles would be if he went over to the bar anyway. He can't sleep, that's the truth, so he'd have that excuse. But it's not worth the risk of making Stiles angry again, he just started to be better on that front. Instead, Derek concentrates on breathing in and out, counting seconds, trying to relax. Maybe he could shift and go for a run, but then again if he's away and Stiles really gets in trouble…

A heavy thud on the door wakes Derek up, his heart racing and he's taken with the urge to shift. He's about to get up and assume a defensive position when he hears Stiles muttering.

"C'mon, c'mon, stupid card."

The motel's alarm clock says 3 in the morning. After a bit more shuffling with the key card, the door opens and Stiles all but falls inside.

"Oooops," he says, and then he shushes himself sniggering. "Shhh, shhhh. Let sleeping dogs lie," he adds before sniggering again.

Visibly, operation 'get drunk' was a roaring success. Stiles smells as if he not only drank like a fish, but also bathed in alcohol. Derek has seen Stiles tipsy before, even drunk once or twice, but never to the point of barely standing up like this. Derek is surprised that he managed to find the right room, and even that he crossed the street without getting hit by a truck. He's stumbling unsteadily towards the bathroom, while holding on to furniture and even the wall at one point.

"Shhhh, shhhh," he does again when he makes a remote control fall to the floor.

Derek wonders if he should just tell Stiles that he's awake and not to bother being careful, but frankly, this is a little amusing. Eventually, Stiles reaches the bathroom, pisses for a good three minutes straight, drinks some water - which is frankly more than Derek expected as self care goes - and comes back in the room, still trying to be stealthy. Once his shin hits his bed, Stiles ungracefully face-plants on it, and not thirty seconds later he's snoring.

Reassured that Stiles is back safe, Derek turns on his side and gets back to sleep.

**

The sound of retching is what wakes Derek up four hours later. Again, and again. Derek gets up, leans on the bathroom's doorframe, and winces at how Stiles is hugging the bowl, everything in his posture is miserable. It pulls at Derek's instinct to make it better, but he doesn't know what to do since he's never experienced a hangover himself. The whole room smells foul, as if Stiles is vomiting only bile and alcohol, and Derek starts the bathroom fan, hoping it helps dissipate the fumes. The old thing rumbles like a truck, though, and Stiles whines.

"Nooooo! Too loud."

True, it hurts Derek's ears so he figures it must be painful for Stile's hangover. He turns it off and Stiles shoulders, which had been hiked around his ears, relax a bit.

"Can I help?" Derek asks.

"Food," Stiles pants, after another bout of dry heaving.

"You sure you'd keep it down?" Derek asks, skeptic.

"Greasy food is magic for hangovers. Honest."

"Okay," Derek says. "Try not to drown in the toilet."

Stiles finds the energy to flip him the bird.

There's a diner next to the hotel, and the waitress looks like she built the place herself in the sixties. Laureen, as says her nametag, stops by Derek who took a seat at the counter. She makes her coffee pot hover over a cup.

"Coffee, handsome?" she asks.

She has blue eyes and laugh lines which, added to her frank familiarity and sustained eye contact, reminds Derek of his grand-aunt Muriel, who lead the Hale pack when he was little, before his mom became Alpha.

"To go, please?" he asks. "I'll take two."

"Sure thing," Laureen say. "Anything else?"

"My friend's hungover, and he says greasy food is magic. What do you suggest?"

Laureen laughs. "I see. I think an order of hash browns, a couple of slices of bacon, and buttered toast could do him some good. Sure worked for me enough times."

"Okay, thanks," Derek says gratefully.

"What about you?" she asks.

"I'll take three egg sandwiches, please."

Laureen grins. "You are so polite, I love it."

Derek has the feeling that she's about to reach over the counter to pinch his cheek, and he's secretly pleased about it. He loved Muriel, and she spoiled him rotten, to his mother's dismay.

"Do you want ham in the sandwiches? Cheese?" she asks.

"Yes to both, thanks."

While Laureen passes on his order, Derek fixes the coffee for Stiles, and starts his own while absently going through the paper. He's reading an article on what to do in London, having a thought for Jackson, when two Styrofoam containers are put before him. He's got to say, those hash brown and bacon smell heavenly, he kind of regrets not ordering some for himself.

"There you go, young man," Laureen says. "I hope it helps your friend."

"I hope so too," Derek says.

"Too bad they don't sell Canada Dry in this pit," Laureen says, giving him the bill. "Ginger ale is good for stomach aches."

That's true. Derek should buy some kind of soda, and maybe crackers. His experience dealing with people suffering from hangovers dates from the days where he hung out with the basketball team in school, before. It's been a while, and frankly, he mostly just laughed at their suffering, which he thought they deserved.

"Thanks for everything," Derek says. He tips as much as the whole meal costs, and leaves with a smile when Laureen cheerfully waves at him through the window. Stiles would probably love her. Too bad he most certainly doesn't feel like socializing right now.

When he gets back to the hotel room, the air is saturated with steam. It looks like Stiles tried his best to get through the whole hot water tank, but at least he's scrubbed clean, smelling of soap, shampoo and mouthwash. He went as far as putting his soiled clothes in plastic bags, tied up tight, which helps a lot with getting rid of the drunk tank smell that permeated the place earlier. Stiles is also stretched on his bed, arm thrown over his face even though the blinds are shut tight and the lights are off. Derek's return is not enough to make him stir.

"Got your grease," Derek says, putting the containers on the table.

"Frankly? I don't think eating is happening right now," Stiles says, voice wavering.

Derek is famished though. "Your loss," he says. He takes a chair and starts eating his egg sandwiches. They are pretty great, too.

Human senses are particularly dull – Derek remembers how lost he was before his evolution, when he reverted back to human – but the hash brows are fragrant enough that eventually Stiles starts sniffing the air, and even glance from under his arm to peer towards the table. Derek opens his box, tastes a forkful of potatoes (they are fantastic, maybe he should eat them himself) and grabs a slice of bacon. He waves it at Stiles.

"I guess I can eat this too, then," he taunts. It works.

"Nu huh, no way, that bacon is mine," Stiles says, slowly sitting up and making grabby hands.

Derek rolls his eyes. "You're not an invalid. Come eat at the table."

"Where's the compassion?" Stiles complains, trying to sound pitiful.

"Not in this room, sorry," Derek says.

He slowly moves the bacon towards his mouth and it does the trick as Stiles gets up and stalks over to snatch it from Derek's hand and takes a bite.

"Mine," he says before he swallows. He then crams the rest in his mouth with an appreciative sound, slips into a chair and grabs the plastic fork that was in the container.

"Seems like you can do food after all," Derek says as Stiles starts stuffing his face.

"This is amazing," Stiles says.

"Maybe you should be careful?" Derek suggests. It seems a bad idea to him to put in so much food on an upset stomach.

"I probably should, but I don't wanna."

"I reserve the right to say I told you so," Derek says, amused. At least Stiles doesn't look like a zombie anymore. Or at least he's a zombie that found a great supply of tasty brains.

Still, when he pays for gas later, Derek buys soda and crackers. Just in case.

***

For the sixth morning in a row, Derek wakes up to the sound of Stiles retching in the bathroom. He's both pissed and worried sick, because he doesn't know what to do. Not deterred one bit by his hangover after the first time he got drunk, the next night Stiles went out again, only to stumble back in the room in the middle of the night even drunker. Derek had fetched a greasy breakfast for him again on Thanksgiving morning, although it wasn't half as good as Laureen's food.

They both avoided mentioning the holiday all day, and Derek kept silent when Stiles repeated the behavior that night. But when the forth night in a row proved to be a cut and paste of the same behavior, even if Thanksgiving was now passed, Derek had refused to play errand boy for his hangover cure the day after. Or the day after that. Stiles was pissed, but endured, eating up Advils. In fact, Derek's little rebellion of not helping Stiles get over his hangover backfired because he somehow got his hands on a whiskey flask that he'd sipped from all day.

Not quite knowing how to stop the self-destructive spiral, Derek had timed their stop at a motel with no bar in sight the night before. Nonetheless, once Derek had gotten ready for bed, pretty proud of his little passive aggressive way to deal with the situation, Stiles had come out of the bathroom with his hair gelled and ready to go out, again.

"Don't wait up," he'd said, going towards the door.

They'd maintained a sullen silence through the day, because even if he tried to give Stiles space, Derek thought it was a stupid idea to drink so much.

"There's no bar."

Stiles had smiled meanly. "I noticed. Thanks, jackass. I'll take a cab."

"Stiles-" he hadn't wanted to plead, but god, Stiles needed to stop this before something happened.

He hadn't listened and went out. Again. And judging by the way he came back totally drunk and was now puking in the toilet, not having a bar in the close vicinity wasn't as effective a deterrent as Derek had hoped. He was at loss as to what to do now. Getting drunk six days in a row was bad, certainly a regression in Stiles' way of coping, but he had no idea how to make him stop. He gets up, goes to the bathroom and his sympathy capital is almost all dried up.

"Looking fine again this morning," Derek says.

"Fuck you. I do what I want," Stiles says feebly.

"It looks so fun," Derek snarks.

"Getting drunk is."

Derek is so fed up. "You get drunk every night!"

"And, for a little bit, I forget," Stiles says, spitting in the bowl. He then sits on the tile, back to the bath and looks up at Derek with liquid eyes, heavy shadows under them and it twists at Derek's heart. "I need it right now." His heart doesn't even skip, and that's another pang. "When I don't need it anymore, I'll stop. It's not a problem," Stiles adds, believing that too.

"Says every alcoholic ever," Derek replies.

Stiles rears back as if he was slapped. "I'm not-"

"Sure seems to me like you're using alcohol as a crutch," Derek says. "But hey, if denial works for you."

"Fuck you and your high horse," Stiles yells, breathing hard. "If you can't stand it, just leave!"

The thing is, maybe it would be better if Derek did leave. But he doesn't want to. He just can't.

"Is that what I should do?" Derek says, voice climbing too. "I don't know, I've never had to deal with this kind of situation before. So if someone you care about drinks too much, you watch and say nothing? Or you leave? That's how it gets better?"

Stiles opens his mouth, ready to shout back, but then he closes it. And goes right back to puking in the toilet. It's so violent this time that Derek is at a loss, it hurts him to see Stiles like this. He grabs a washcloth and soaks it in cold water, wrings it out and kneels by Stiles side, who's breathing shallowly over the bowl. Derek flushes the mess away, queasy by sympathy and assaulted by the smell, and gently passes the washcloth over Stiles' face, taking hold of his chin. He wipes away cold sweat that smells of alcohol, snot and tears, and Stiles is breathing shallowly, heart beating fast.

"I'm worried," Derek says softly. "I don't know how to help."

He doesn't know if it's the honesty or the kindness, or that he just confessed vulnerability but it seems to break something in Stiles who turns towards Derek and rests his forehead on his shoulder.

"I'm not even sure I can be helped."

"I can try?" Derek offers. "Look, I know we avoided talking about this like champs-"

Stiles snorts a laugh at that, and Derek continues.

"But it's normal that it hurts. Of course it does. Drinking yourself into a coma isn't the solution, at least I don't think so."

"I judged him, when he did it," Stiles says, voice low. He has started shaking, and Derek rubs a comforting hand up and down his back. "She died, and he drank, and I'd cry myself to sleep. He was supposed to take care of me, to be the adult. But I guess it just hurt too much and he needed to numb the pain, too."

"I can't get drunk," Derek says, after a moment of silence. "So I don't get it. But you're hurting yourself. Is it worth feeling like crap all day?"

Stiles sighs deeply.

"He'd be so disappointed in me."

Oh no, that won't do. Derek chides him. "No way. Your dad was so proud of you."

"Why are you being so nice to me?" Stiles asks, leaning back to scan Derek's face.

"I told you, you're my friend," Derek says.

He doesn't add that he sees himself, all of those years ago. That he wants to be the support Stiles needs. That he's pretty sure he's in love with him and that he wants nothing more than to make him happy again.

"I know I've been a brat-" Stiles starts.

"Don't I know it."

Stiles smiles. "See? That. Thanks, man, you're the best."

Derek accepts the hug when it comes, even lets himself be a little more clingy.

"Now, are you done stinking up the place?" Derek asks.

"I think so."

After the toilet is flushed, Stiles gets in the shower while Derek puts some mint toothpaste on his toothbrush and passes it over. The shower curtain is semi-transparent and Derek forces himself not to look. Stiles feels like crap, he doesn't need to be perved on. Instead, Derek picks up the clothes on the floor and shoves them in a plastic bag.

"We need to find a laundromat," Derek says.

"Right," Stiles says. "Sounds good."

"I'll go ask at the front desk. Then we'll go grab breakfast, okay?"

"Okay." Stiles pulls on the shower curtain and god help Derek, he looks ridiculously adorable. He's just got his head peeking out, full of shampoo suds, and Derek focuses on not looking anywhere else. "Could you ask if they have Tylenol or something?"

"Sure."

There happens to be a paying washer and dryer in a room behind the lobby, so they stick around for longer than expected. They don't need to leave the room before noon anyway. But there are no analgesics, and Stiles is visibly in pain, holed up in their room with all of the lights off. He doesn't complain, but eventually Derek hovers near him for a minute before sitting on his own bed, facing him.

"I could help," he finally offers.

"Mmmm?"

"Want me to take some of it?"

Stiles raises his arm, looks at him. "That will transfer the hurt to you."

"Yes, but it won't last long," Derek says with a shrug.

"I don't see why you'd have to pay for my bad decisions," Stiles says, hiding under his arm again. "Besides, how will I learn my lesson?"

God, he can be so frustrating. "I'm offering, Stiles."

"Why?"

"Because I can," Derek says, getting frustrated. "Come on."

"Only five seconds," Stiles says, after a moment of silence.

Weird request, but five second is a start. Derek changes beds and Stiles tenses up, heart picking up. It's a weird reaction, but Stiles reacts strongly to the most random things sometimes. Derek hesitates for a moment: he could grab the hand that Stiles has on his stomach, but the pain drain is more effective when in contact with the area that hurts. Since he doesn't quite dare slide his hand on Stiles' tummy – even though his t-shirt is riding up and showing a slip of skin with that tantalizing treasure trail – Derek chooses to cover Stiles' forehead instead. Stiles tenses for a second again, but then he sags when the pain leeching starts.

The pain isn't that intense, not compared to a physical injury like a broken bone, but it has a nasty and sluggish quality that is disgusting. He counts in his head, but when five comes and Stiles doesn't shake it away, Derek lingers a little more. The pain has lessened, though it's still there when Derek stops. He gives into the impulse of petting back Stiles hair a couple of times. It's been years since he's let himself show casual physical affection with someone he's not involved with.

"Better?" he asks.

"Yes, thank you," Stiles says. "And no, no more, it's enough."

Which is what Derek was going to offer, but he guesses it was predictable.

"Okay. I'll go check on the laundry."

"I swear, I'll do it next time," Stiles says, yawning.

He does look more relaxed now, and like he's going to fall asleep. Wouldn't be a bad thing, either. Stiles hasn't slept much in the last week that wasn't being passed out from too much drinking. It's still early, barely 8:30, so two or three hours could do him some good, before they have to leave. Derek can't resist a last caress to Stiles' head, into which he sleepily turns in a way that makes Derek's heart melt.

 

**

The car ride, when they finally pack up and leave, is silent again today but so different in atmosphere that Derek starts to hope Stiles will be okay. He still wears his oversized sunglasses that make him look like an ant, protecting himself from the sun, but the general mood is more introspective than belligerent.

"Where are we heading today?" Derek asks.

"Is there anything to do close?" Stiles says, gesturing to their surroundings.

"I feel like swimming." It's only in saying it that Derek realizes how true it is.

"Wow, random much?" Stiles says, cracking a smile. "But sure. It's been weirdly hot for the first of December, swimming could be fun."

"Now to find a pool…"

Stiles thinks about it. "I still have a headache. So I'm not sure that I'm up for screaming kids. But on a Monday it shouldn't be a problem, right?"

"Probably not." There are rarely families in the motel they sleep in, at least not at this time of the year. They could also book a bigger hotel in town, as they're about an hour out of Houston. "We're not that far from the coast, though."

"Oh, oh!" Stiles exclaims. "A dip in the Gulf of Mexico. That could be cool."

Derek smiles. "Yeah. Maybe look up a good spot?"

"Sure, yes," Stiles says as he gets his phone out, more animated than he's been all week.

After consulting the Internet, Stiles has Derek drive up to the Galveston Island State Park, after making a stop in a grocery store to pack a picnic.

The park is nice, part of it for conservation and a beach too. It's a beautiful day but it's mostly deserted, which suits them just fine. They eat their sandwiches, and eventually decide to go for a swim. Derek doesn't have a swimsuit, unlike Stiles, so he strips to his boxer shorts and wades right in. Stiles stops at the water's edge making a face.

"That's a lot colder than I thought," he says. "That must be, like, 60 degrees top. No wonder there's no one here today."

Since the suggestion to swim was to cool down, Derek doesn't see where the problem is, even if yes, it's pretty cold. Once he's deep enough, he takes a deep breath and goes under, appreciating how the world dims with the water, a cocoon for his senses. He does hear Stiles faintly bitching and splashing, so he must have decided to dip in after all.

When Derek surfaces, he shakes his head to get rid of water in his hair and Stiles laughs. He's about mid-thigh in, the water just touching the bottom of his board shorts.

"You're making it too easy for dog jokes, Derek," he says.

"Har har," Derek says.

He's fast in water, and Stiles isn't that far from him. It's too easy to come to the decision to have a little fun of his own. Derek starts swimming in an arc around Stiles.

Stiles is distracted, examining the water, and has no idea what is about to happen. "I think I saw a fish or something."

As stealthy as he can, Derek approaches him; the second Stiles seems to suspect something, or at least starts to turn around, Derek pounces. He winds his arms around Stiles' waist as they collide, and brings him under. Stiles shrieks before being submerged and twists out of Derek's grasp.

"You asshole!" he yells as he surfaces, hair flattened. His face is red with outrage.

Derek laughs when Stiles tries to splash him in the face, but doesn't attack again, he even swims away.

"Always be prepared," he says, proud of himself.

"Yeah, right. That seems to be your go to training tactic: sneak attacks on the unsuspecting," Stiles says. "For a while I thought Scott would never get over how you acted with him after the bite. God he hated you."

It's the first time Stiles has spoken of Scott since they left Beacon Hills.

"Scott was too naïve. Maybe scaring him wasn't my best idea, but he wouldn't listen," Derek says.

"He'd just been turned plus he was dealing with love at first sight, so yeah." Stiles treads water, just bobbing with the waves.

"I know."

Derek steps on something sharp in the sand, and, intrigued, he goes under to take it in his hand. It turns out to be a shell, creamy white and pink, that would have been pretty but is broken. To avoid stepping on it again, Derek throws it as hard as he can towards the horizon.

It says a lot about how comfortable he is with Stiles that he doesn't notice him coming closer until he leaps on his back. Derek goes down with an 'ooomph' and almost breathes in water. Stiles winds his long legs around Derek's waist and his arms tight around his neck and shoulders, and stays there as Derek surfaces again, well attached and cackling like a maniac.

"Didn't look prepared to me!" he says, in Derek's ear, who has to fight a full body shiver at the way Stiles' breath hit his neck.

"My bad," Derek says, and throws himself into the water on his back, dunking Stiles again, but he holds on.

He rapidly comes to the conclusion that he won't get Stiles to let go unless he physically pries him off, but he doesn't want to hurt him. It seems like Stiles has quite a lot of lung capacity, as he doesn't even seem distressed when Derek stays under for over two minutes. Derek won't claw at him, and there's the risk that forcing a limb off would pull it out of its socket or cause a sprain. It's not that Derek's not enjoying their little tussle, he is very much. A little too much, in fact, and if Derek wants to get out of this without making everything awkward with a boner, he needs to do something fast. Stiles is laughing every time they are out of the water, and he's holding on so hard that there's not even space for air between them.

The idea comes suddenly, and it's perfect. Derek quickly checks that they are still alone on the beach and doesn't wait one more second: he starts to shift. It works, Stiles is so surprised at the change and the fur sprouting that he yelps and lets go, falling into the water with some epic flailing. Since he was in water going to up to his chest, Derek in wolf form sinks to the bottom at first. His tail is constricted and uncomfortable and he quickly realizes that it's because his underwear tore a bit, but it's still mostly in place. Without a doubt, he would never live it down if Stiles saw him as a wolf wearing boxer shorts, so the first order of business is to rip them off. Then he goes up to the surface to breathe. Swimming like this is a bit weird, at least at first, so he goes for the shore, while Stiles yells after him.

"You didn't just to that!"

Once he has purchase on the sandy bottom, Derek turns around and waits for Stiles.

"That's cheating!" Stiles protests some more.

Derek tries his best to raise an eyebrow and Stiles must get it because he starts laughing.

"Okay, okay, you got me. That was the weirdest feeling ever, man. Your bones shifted right under me," he says, making a face that is half amazed and half disgusted.

Still, Derek not only shook Stiles off and, therefore, won their little wrestling match, he also got out of a possible weird situation so he counts it as a double win.

Once on dry land, Derek shakes all over to get rid of excess water, making Stiles laugh again. He's still wading in the water, looking at him with wonder and Derek finds he likes the attention. He bounds back in, goes to swim laps around Stiles who does try to catch him again. They semi-wrestle in the shallow water, until Derek is full of sand and Stiles out of breath and asking for a break.

"Okay, okay, you're stronger than me, I get it!"

As if that was ever in question.

Visibly tired, Stiles gets out of the water and goes to grab his towel, drying off. His lips are almost blue with the cold, shivers shaking his body. Since staying in wolf form means the salt water will dry stiff and itchy, not talking about the sand, Derek goes back in the water, dives and shifts back. He surfaces and walks out too. Stiles immediately turns his back on him, though he should know by now that Derek isn't bothered by nudity. On the other hand, Stiles does seem uncomfortable with it, so whatever works best. He dries off and puts his shorts and t-shirt back.

"We should find a room, I need a shower," Derek says.

"Or we could find a truck stop," Stiles suggests.

"You want to drive some more?"

Stiles yawns, and makes a face. "Maybe not. I feel like taking a nap."

Derek doesn't mention that he slept most of the morning, because he does look tired but from activity for a change.

"That sounds nice. Come on, let's find a place to crash."

**

A good shower, with decent pressure for once, does wonders. When Derek comes out, Stiles is dead to the world. He doesn't think he'll wake up, but Derek writes a note that he's getting food. Coming out of the room, he side-eyes the bar that's right across the street. Stiles had spotted it, too, when they pulled in the parking lot, but hadn't commented. Frankly, Derek doesn't know what he'll do if Stiles decides to get plastered again. Not that he can do much. He resolves not to worry about it until it happens, though he hopes it doesn't.

Since their room has a fully equipped kitchenette, Derek goes to the grocery store to buy supplies to do a home cooked meal for once. They've eaten a lot of take out and fast food since they left two weeks ago, and Derek is getting a bit sick of it. Maybe they should stop in places like this more often, cook a little food, then pack the rest for lunches. He'll run it by Stiles later, though he's made it his mission to try French fries wherever they stop. A scientific study, he used to say when they started their trip, though that levity had fallen by the way side in the last week when all that Stiles did was suffer through his hangovers and kept silent.

Derek's in the produce section, picking a head of lettuce to make a salad to go with the carbonara pasta he is planning when his phone vibrates with a text. He expects it to be Stiles, maybe with a request, but it's Scott. There are two texts, back to back.

Hey man, how are you guys doing?

You were supposed to keep me in the loop :( :(

Derek doesn't want to have a conversation in a grocery store. He texts back.

Give me 10 minutes, I'll call you.

Scott replies immediately.

Cool!

Derek hurries to pick everything he needs for their meal, chooses a pan of brownies that smell pretty great for dessert, adds a half gallon of milk for Stiles and gets some tea bags for himself before paying for it all. Once the bags are loaded in the car, he calls Scott back.

"Hi!" comes the enthusiastic greeting.

It makes Derek smile. "Hi Scott."

"I almost called on Thanksgiving, but then I decided it wasn't the greatest idea. How are you doing? Where are you guys?" he immediately starts quizzing. Derek feels bad about neglecting to keep in contact, but he's been preoccupied for the last few days.

"We're in Galveston, Texas," Derek says. "Little town, down by the Gulf of Mexico. Today was a good day, we went swimming."

"Cool! Did Stiles do the koala attack?" he asks. Derek isn't surprised that it's a thing.

"That he did," Derek says. "He was a pain to shake off, too."

Scott laughs. "You managed? Wow, that is impressive. The only way I used to be able to get rid of him was either crying uncle and admitting he's the best or faking an asthma attack. That last one hasn't been an option in a while, though."

"How are things in Beacon Hills?" Derek asks. He still feels guilty for abandoning the pack to their fate.

"Quiet, very quiet," Scott says and Derek relaxes. "All is good, the most trouble we've had has been Liam getting in a fight at school, no supernatural involved apart from controlling his temper."

Being a hot head isn't something you unlearn fast, especially when the moon plays on your emotions. In Liam's case, he'll have to work on it all of his life.

"Glad to hear you guys are okay." After a second Derek decides to open up on his recent woes. If there's someone who knows Stiles well, and would know if he needs to worry, it's Scott. "The last couple of days, Stiles' been drinking a lot." Scott makes a sound of distress that Derek feels the need to follow with reassurance. "We talked about it this morning, I'm hoping he's going to let up."

"Shit. I hope so. His Dad got pretty low, after Stiles' mom died," Scott says.

"That's what he said. Is there something I should do?"

"I don't know, man. He can get pretty defensive when he feels cornered," Scott muses.

"Defensive? It was at best passive aggression, and at worst almost war whenever I hinted I disapproved," Derek says.

Scott chuckles. "Yeah. I wish I could help. Or talk to him. I guess going on the road isn't a magical cure all, huh?"

"Never said it was," Derek replies.

"Where are you going next?"

"We don't plan," Derek admits. "But at this point we're going East. I think Stiles will like Louisiana."

"I bet. I'd like to travel too, one day," Scott says wistfully.

"I'm sure you will." They are all so young. "Take care, Scott, I'll try to update you more regularly."

"Thanks, it's appreciated. It was great talking with you. Hug Stiles for me?"

Derek chuckles. "It would surprise him, we don't really hug."

"You are missing out!" Scott says, cheerful. Derek has seen Stilinski hugs, he knows they are quality. "Talk to you soon!"

He shakes his head as he puts his phone away. Scott has a very vibrant personality; Derek hopes life doesn't beat it out of him. He lost a lot of his naiveté in the last couple of years, which was necessary but still a shame. Stiles… he's always been a cynic in a gray scale world, it's probably one of the reasons why Derek gets along with him so well.

Derek is surprised that Stiles is still dead asleep when he gets back to the room. If he keeps sleeping like that, he won't be able to go through the night. Therefore, Derek doesn't feel guilty at all making noise as he prepares their pasta. He's not banging pots and pans, but he's not overly careful either. Soon Stiles' breathing changes as he hovers close to consciousness, then wakes without making a sound. Derek can feel Stiles' eyes on his back, and almost tastes his need to tell a joke about how domesticated Derek is. It's not unpleasant, being scrutinized by Stiles.

It makes Derek think about them, what he wishes they could be. He knows there is attraction between them at the very least, as much as he can judge by the way Stiles looks at him sometimes, though he always stops when he knows Derek has noticed. It would be easier to be able to rely on scent, but he's got fuck all with the chemosignal block Stiles perfected years ago. But you can find someone nice to look at, even sexy, without wanting more than casual sex the once. Some even prefer keeping stray thoughts as a fantasy without ever wanting more.

And that? It's not what Derek wants. He knows that if he can get Stiles once, he will want more. He desires him, that's for sure, but a one-night stand wouldn't be enough. Maybe, just maybe, he could consider a friends with benefits arrangement, but the mere idea of being with Stiles and it not being exclusive, or that after a time or twelve he would move on to someone else makes Derek's skin crawl. If it would come to that, Derek prefers not even making the jump to lovers and keep what they have now. Even with the best intentions, exes rarely stay close friends. Keeping Stiles' friendship is the most important.

Musing keeps him in his head for a bit, but eventually the meal is ready.

“Hungry?” he asks Stiles without turning around.

“Yes.” Stiles’ voice is scratchy from sleep. “It smells fantastic.”

“Thank you. It’s probably the bacon,” Derek says, winking at Stiles who is finally leaving the bed to come over and grab a plate from their little cupboard.

Stiles’ smile dims a little. “True, bacon makes everything better.”

Derek could kick himself. He’s heard all about how Stiles used to police his father’s diet and bacon was the worst offender of them all. Fortunately, Stiles is distracted once he’s got a full bowl and takes a bite. His appreciative groan is almost pornographic.

“Oh my god, that is amazing!” he says.

Desire stirs in Derek’s gut and he has to look away from Stiles who is making happy little sounds as he stuffs his face. It should be a total turn off, but it’s not.

“Guess I wasn’t the only one who had enough of living on take out,” Derek says as he joins Stiles at the table.

“I didn’t know you cooked!” Stiles says.

“What, and the kitchen, stove, pot and pans in my apartment were just for show?” he asks, raising an eyebrow.

“They could have been!” Stiles says, licking his fork clean of sauce before diving in again. “If I had known you cooked this well, I would have subtly dropped by more often at meal time!”

Derek smiles. “Now you know.”

It’s not subtle as an invitation, but it’s there, and Stiles' answering grin shows he got it.

“I do. Really, this is fantastic! What else do you do?”

“Nothing fancy,” Derek says. “I’m pretty good with a grill, pasta, soups. I don’t bake though.”

“Well, that’s a shame. But, on the other hand, I’m pretty good at cookies.

“See, I didn’t know that either,” Derek says,

"There is a ton you don't know about me."

"I do know you like brownies," Derek says, getting the box from the bag that he'd left under the table.

Stiles' eyes go round. "No way!"

He's so visibly pleased that Derek can't help smiling, besotted. The things he'd do to put that expression on Stiles' face every day.

As he suspected, Stiles eats several brownies, and ends up popping the button on his jeans.

"That was awesome," he says.

"I didn't even make them," Derek replies.

"The whole dinner," Stiles says. "Everything was great. You're actually marriage material."

"Glad you enjoyed it," Derek says. The compliments warm him up, and he wills his brain not to overanalyze them. That last bit must have been part sarcasm, surely.

Stiles gets up, takes the dishes to the sink, and starts running hot water with dish soap. When Derek goes to follow and grabs a dishtowel, he gets shooed away.

"No way, I've got this. It's the least I can do."

Frankly, Derek hates doing dishes, always has, so he's happy to go sit on his bed and turns on the TV instead. Unfortunately, there's nothing good, or at least nothing that can beat Stiles with his shirtsleeves rolled up to the elbows, suds clinging to his strong forearms. Derek can admit that his crush is getting out of control.

There's a show about a man and a woman being sent in a hostile environment naked, where they need to survive 21 days. If the naked and survival mode part of the show don't seem that much of a challenge for Derek, dealing all day every day with someone you've never even met before seems hellish. Plus, neither of the contestants are able to start a fire, even with a fire starter, so he has no idea why they applied for that sort of experience. He's getting into the program a bit when Stiles drops by his side, on his bed. They usually watch TV from their own bed.

"Ohhh, 'Naked and Afraid', I like that show."

"They are idiots and should stop bitching about their partner and start a fucking fire already," Derek says.

Stiles laughs. "True! But there wouldn't be a show without a bit of drama!"

"Maybe they wouldn't go nuts from not sleeping because of the mosquitos if they just got their shit in order!" he replies.

"Easy for you to say," Stiles says. "I bet you're the regular Boy Scout, and would have a shelter and fire set up in 3.4 minutes."

"Why would you even think that?" Derek says, rolling his eyes. "The only camping I ever did were the trips with school. I hate it."

"What?" Stiles exclaims.

Derek gestures to their room. "I like a minimum of amenities."

"Bullshit!" Stiles says forcefully. "You lived in the ruins of your childhood home! In an abandoned train station! You apartment still has a giant hole in the wall!"

"For the house and the station, I was hiding, Stiles." There are only 4 motels in Beacon Hills, two hotels and a couple of bed and breakfast accommodations, so that's pretty obvious places to search. "I couldn't risk booking a room when there were hunters after me. And I'm fixing up my building, the hole isn't a priority. Plus it gives open space."

Stiles laughs. "Whatever you say. But wow, I guess it makes sense but I always thought you just didn't mind living in those places."

"And now you know," Derek says, echoing his previous statement about cooking.

"I do," Stiles says with a half smile. He stretches and gets up, making Derek realize how close they actually sat together and how he misses it already.

"I need to shower," Stiles says, going to his suitcase and grabbing his shaving kit.

He also takes clothes and Derek's stomach drops. The bar across the street is starting to fill up, and Derek can already guess that it's a rowdy place.

He refrains from saying anything while Stiles gets ready, sullenly watching the TV show that isn't that entertaining anymore. Derek considers getting up and going for a run, to avoid facing Stiles as he leaves, but it takes Stiles a lot less time in the bathroom than usual. Derek is still there, wondering what to do, when Stiles comes out. He's in sweatpants and a soft t-shirt, definitely not what he wears out usually. In fact, Stiles flops back on the bed right next to him, hair spiked by the water but not styled.

"So, did the guy tap out?" he asks.

"No, he hung on."

Everything points to Stiles wanting to stay in tonight, and the relief Derek feels is immense.

"Ohhh, they got a lizard!" he says, and Derek has to tamp down his smile, because idiots on TV managing basic hunting skills isn't what is making him happy right now.

"Good for them. Now if they could stop saying 'protein' every two second, it would be great."

Stiles laughs, delighted, and leans even closer, pretty much resting his head on Derek's shoulder. It feels as if Christmas came early, and Derek doesn't dare move so it stays that way.

He even agrees to watch the next episode when it turns out it's a marathon.

***

Derek is woken up by noise in the bathroom the next morning, but thankfully it's not Stiles puking his stomach lining. He dropped something – the noise that startled Derek awake - and is currently muttering under his breath about evil little fuckers.

"Is everything okay?" Derek calls out, voice scratchy.

"Yes, sorry. I didn't mean to wake you up," Stiles says.

The bathroom's door is opened and currently Derek has the view of Stiles' ass as he's on all fours on the tiles. Derek's brain might not be totally awake and it translates the view into arousal.

"What the hell are you doing?" Derek asks gruffly, burying himself under the cover to resist the temptation to walk over and grab that pert little ass.

"Dropped my Adderall bottle. Now the pills are freaking everywhere."

Derek grunts. It makes sense, in some way.

"Why are you up so early?" Derek asks. He actually slept without worrying, once Stiles went back to his bed, but it's not even dawn out.

"I slept all day yesterday. I'm wide awake, couldn't go back to sleep. Sorry I woke you. I was trying to pack in silence."

"You know I don't mind getting up early," Derek says. "In fact, I'll go for a run. Want to join me?"

He expects a flat out refusal, but Stiles tilts his head to the side instead, considering.

"Will you go easy on me?"

Of course he will. But Derek smiles. "Do I ever?"

He does, all the time.

Stiles doesn't need to know that.

**

"Never again," Stiles says overdramatically as they come back to the room.

"Come on, it wasn't so bad!" Derek has a bounce in his step.

They went back to the beach, where they ran in the sand and he's pleasantly loose. Stiles had kept bitching at him for going too fast, even though he kept up just fine. The sky was bright blue, a little bit of wind to cool them down, not one annoying person stopping them, and it's the best morning Derek has had in a long time.

"Maybe. Maybe not," Stiles says. "I might feel it for days."

"Good," Derek says, taking off his shirt. He's just a little sweaty, but the contrast with the room's AC makes his body hairs stand on end.

Stiles dives in his bed and when Derek looks he has a pillow over his head. His heart rate is still slightly elevated from the run, too. The room is nice enough, and he enjoyed cooking the night before, but Derek really doesn't like the temptation of the bar across the street. Stiles resisted for an evening, and Derek doesn't want to make it too easy to go back to drinking. That means they have to go.

"If you fall asleep while I shower, I warn you: I'll shove you under the spray myself."

Stiles heart double thuds and Derek smirks.

"Could you not?" Stiles whines. Derek doesn't know what exactly is annoying Stiles except for the threat, but he has given up trying to make sense of Stiles' reactions a long time ago.

"Just don't fall asleep," Derek replies.

He takes a short shower just in case, knowing that the longer he takes, the more chances there are that Stiles will take a nap. He's got lots of affinities with horizontal surfaces lately, and seemingly the ability to fall asleep at will. Unless it's the morning, it seems.

Fortunately, Stiles isn't asleep at all when Derek leaves the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his waist. He's right by the door and enters as Derek goes out, which is a little strange and means they are briefly chest-to-chest in the doorway. Stiles bows his head but looks at him through his eyelashes and Derek would swear it's downright flirtatious if he could smell any interest on Stiles.

He can't.

Shaking the impression off, Derek dresses and packs his luggage. By the times Stiles comes out, they are pretty much ready to go.

**

Stiles is muttering in his sleep. Derek eyes the alarm clock on the night stand: it shows 3:15 in the morning. It's not unusual, Stiles regularly talks in his sleep, but it's generally nonsense. This time it's a repetition of 'help', and that definitely wakes Derek up. Stiles has been sleeping restlessly for the last couple of days, in fact, since he stopped going out at night. Not once did he hint that he wanted to start drinking again, though Derek had seen him grab a bottle of Scotch the day before. Thankfully, he'd just put it back on the shelf and moved on, to Derek's immense relief.

Stiles, still trapped in his nightmare, is tossing around now. When asleep, Stiles' control over the chemosignals slips and he smells afraid, and it's getting worse. It makes Derek's every instinct to protect go into overdrive, and after a couple more minutes, he can't stand it anymore. He gets up, sits on Stiles' bed and gently puts a hand on his shoulder. He doesn't want to scare him on top of whatever is going on in his head.

"Hey, hey, it's alright," Derek says softly.

Stiles' eyes are moving rapidly under his eyelids, still fast asleep. He whimpers and Derek squeezes a little.

"Stiles, wake up."

He does with a start, wide-eyed and shouting "No, no, Dad!"

Derek's heart flips and he shushes him. "Easy, easy."

The outpouring of panic crests and turns into grief when Stiles realizes where he is and the nightmare fades into a reality that isn't much better. He starts trembling, breath coming fast.

"Oh no, oh no, god," he's saying brokenly, turning to hide his face in his pillow and Derek puts a hand on his neck.

"Shhhh." He can't say that everything is fine, he doesn't want to lie. "I've got you."

With a broken sob, Stiles turns and curls around Derek, putting his head right next to Derek's thigh, an arm thrown ever his legs.

"There was blood everywhere," Stiles says, breath hitching.

"Nightmares tend to overdo it," Derek agrees, letting himself card his fingers in Stiles hair, slightly damp with sweat. "For me it's flames. And I can never do anything to help."

"Still?"

"Sometimes. It got better. I got better. You will too," he says softly.

To Derek's dismay, Stiles starts crying. It's the first time Derek is aware of him letting go since the Sheriff died. It looks like it's wrenched out of Stiles, sobs that come from deep in his chest and he makes choked sounds like an animal dying. It pulls at Derek's heartstrings and he feels completely helpless to help. Derek's not sure what to do, but he finally decides to lie down next to Stiles and pull him into his arms. Stiles has his fists full of the t-shirt Derek wore to bed, face mashed against his shoulder, dampening it with tears. Hands running up and down Stiles back soothingly, Derek makes encouraging noises.

"It's okay, let it out. I'm here, okay?" and variations of the same, and realizes he's unconsciously started a light rocking motion. He stops but Stiles seems to get more restless, so Derek picks it back up. He would give up a lot to be able to take away all of that pain with a soft touch and a foolish love.

Stiles cries for a long time, his sobs eventually calming down into little hiccups. Playing with his hair seems to relax him, and eventually, completely exhausted, Stiles falls asleep.

Derek doesn't let go.

**

Stiles is trying to get out of his arms and Derek's first reflex is to hold on tighter.

"Oh, hey, you can let go, big guy," Stiles says, sounding awkward.

"Mmmmm?" Derek lets him slip out, reluctantly. He feels good, rested. He held Stiles in his arms for comfort, but it seems to have done him some good, too.

Stiles is now sitting on the bed, rubbing at his face. He throws Derek a sideways glance and he looks embarrassed. The chemosignal block is firmly in place, though.

"Sorry about that, man."

"Nothing to be sorry about," Derek says, yawning.

"Well, your shirt is a mess," Stiles jokes. "Snot everywhere. That wasn't pretty."

"I don't care," Derek says with a shrug. Whatever Stiles went though, it must have been, he hopes, at least a bit cathartic.

"Care for an omelet?" Stiles asks, overly cheerful. "I'll get on that."

"Sure."

They've stopped in kitchenette-equipped hotels since Galveston, and it's been good. Derek has bought a cooler that they can bring into the rooms to carry a couple of basics and their leftovers, and fill with ice during the day.

Derek doesn't know what to do to put Stiles at ease. He gets that he might be embarrassed, but he shouldn't be. It took Derek months to first cry after the fire, and it had made a small difference, which was a start. Laura had held him all night, too, but being siblings made it probably more natural than to have a break down with your friend.

Derek stretches and finally rolls out of bed, and he does change shirts since it looks a little worse for wear. The more he thinks about it, the more Derek feels like it's a huge step that Stiles showed him his vulnerability. He digs into the omelet with enthusiasm when it's ready, making Stiles chuckle.

"A wolf's appetite in the morning will never cease to amaze me."

Derek smiles, knowing it looks a little wolfish. "That's nothing. Didn't even get a good workout first."

It comes out more flirtatious than intended, and Derek would swear Stiles' pupils react but the damn scent shield gives away nothing.

"I can imagine," Stiles says, focusing on his own plate.

"So, where are we heading today?" Derek asks after the silence stretches out too long.

Damnit, he never used to feel as if he had to fill conversation gaps before. They've been driving around Louisiana for over a week and it's been pretty awesome. Derek loves how different the landscape is, with the swamps, and they had fun listening to an old Cajun man giving them a boat tour talk about the legends of the rougarou. Derek hasn't seen or smelled any other werewolves, but there must be some around, which gave birth to the tales a long time ago.

"Well, we did talk about Avery Island and the Tabasco factory," Stiles says. "Not that far now, right?"

"You're in charge of the maps!"

"It depends if you'll insist on stopping in all of the scenic points?" Stiles says. It sounds accusing or at the very least very sarcastic.

Derek bristles a little. "What's the use of doing a road trip if we don't stop and see the actual places?"

"Getting away," Stiles snaps.

And with that they're back to uneasy.

Derek refrains from sighing and gets up, getting their cutlery and dishes.

"Sure, that too." He brings them to the sink and starts the hot water, adds soap.

"You know, they'd wash them if we left the dishes in the sink," Stiles says. "You leave big tips, they wouldn't even mind."

"It's not much, it'll just take minute," Derek says.

He does tip well, and there's a reason for it apart from being a polite customer. He worked in a place like this, not far from the coast in New Hampshire, before he and Laura settled in New York. It had always made his day better when he got a room that only needed the basic refreshing and had more than a couple of bucks left behind as a tip. If he can make some unknown person happy in return for a little time, he will do it.

Even if he protested, Stiles takes the dishtowel and dries.

***

As a general rule, they've been sticking to little towns, though once in a while they go see a movie or visit a museum if something looks particularly tempting. If he was passive at first, more and more, Stiles comes up with ideas. This one? Is not to Derek's liking that much.

"Horseback riding?" he repeats.

"Yeah. I haven't done it in years and we're in Texas. I'm pretty sure it's mandatory," Stiles says.

"I'm sure there are tours that could take you," Derek says.

Stiles turns to him, frowning. "You don't want to?"

"In theory, I see the appeal. But I'm pretty sure no horse will let me ride it."

The frown turns into surprise, then delight.

"Seriously? Horses reject werewolves?" He laughs.

"They are terrified," Derek says. "My mom excused us from school outings saying we had severe allergies. Peter told me that he went once and the horses had freaked out so bad trying to get away from him, a kid almost got trampled."

"I'm sure he did something sketchy," Stiles says.

"Probably," Derek agrees. "But if you want to, it's not a problem. Find a place, I'll drop you, maybe go for a long run."

"Okay, if you don't mind," Stiles says. "It sucks, though. Horses are awesome, you are missing out."

"Oh, I don't know. They're dangerous at both ends and crafty in the middle." Derek carefully doesn't say the second part of that Sherlock Holmes quote, which is 'Why would I want anything with a mind of its own bobbing about between my legs?', finding it a bit too suggestive.

Stiles laughs. "Man, you referencing pop culture never gets old."

"I aim to surprise," Derek says with a wink.

It sucks that he can't go watch Stiles being all cowboy-ish, he's sure it would be hot. Derek drives Stiles to a ranch that offers 2 hours rides, where he's able to join a tour with a handful of tourists from New York. All is going well until the ranch hand leads the saddled horses out of the stable, and they start rolling their eyes in fear at the smell of werewolf. Derek leaves immediately, telling Stiles to call him when he's done.

Unable to resist, Derek parks the car a couple miles away, then he doubles up, staying down wind and as far as he needs to be for the horses not to detect him. It's worth it to sneak a peek of Stiles on his horse, at ease and in control. Unsurprisingly it is, indeed, very hot.

**

They've stopped for burgers tonight, in McDonalds even. Derek has always loved their fries, so once in a while is fine, especially since they've eaten more vegetables and less grease lately.

He's mid-swallow, done with his last mouthful, when Stiles comes right out with the million-dollar question.

"Would Scott's bite have saved my dad?"

Derek takes a deep breath and looks at Stiles, right in the eyes. He's tense, jaw clenched but totally chemosignal-free, armor firmly in place.

"In my opinion, no," Derek states plainly and Stiles looks down at his bed, looking torn. "He was too injured. Sometimes the bite doesn't take even with perfectly healthy people. I'm sorry."

"I am, too," Stiles says, blinking rapidly, probably to hold back tears.

A heavy silence falls, and Derek wishes he could offer more comfort. There isn't much to say, though. He shoves his empty cardboard holder in the bag with the rest of his trash, makes a ball and lobs it in the wastebasket.

Normally, Stiles would call a "3 points!", but tonight he stays silent, lost in thought. Derek can be supportive of that, at least.

Inexplicably tired since they didn't do much more than drive all day, Derek slides down on his bed, putting a pillow against the headboard to support his head. There's a Frasier marathon on TV, and even though it's a show that Derek enjoys, his eyes keep falling shut. It must have been the third time his head snaps back up when Stiles touches his shoulder. Derek didn't even notice him come close, and Stiles smells right out of the shower, breath minty.

"Come on, scoot down," Stiles says. "You're going to have a crick in your neck."

Derek must have fallen asleep, then, and his limbs feel weighted by lead. He obeys, and is vaguely aware of Stiles slipping the comforter over him. He wants to protest that he won't need it, he's still dressed – he should do something about that – but all that he gets out is a mumble.

Stiles sounds fond when he speaks next. "Uh huh. Go to sleep, grumpy."

There's a soft touch to his hair, but Derek has already let go.

***

The problem with going to sleep really early is when you wake in the middle of the night, sufficiently rested, that drifting off again is hard. Derek thinks it's what has happened when he sees it's three in the morning, but then the real reason he woke scoots closer on the bed. Stiles has slipped in, though he's not touching him, just parallel to Derek's body and a few inches away.

"Is this okay," Stiles asks, sounding nervous. "As soon as I fall asleep, the nightmares-"

Stiles doesn't need to say more. Derek rolls on his back and raises the arm closest to him in invitation. It's like he was waiting for it, and Stiles quickly snuggles close, fist closing in the fabric of Derek's t-shirt a lot like the other night.

"Thank you," he says, breath hot against Derek's neck.

It's a little hot, and Derek wishes he'd taken his jeans off, but on the other hand it's better that he stays like this to remind himself that this is a friend taking comfort in cuddling. Stiles is a bit tense, though he soon times his breathing to Derek's and relaxes pretty fast after that.

The combination of breathing in Stiles' scent and the reassuring weight of Stiles' head and arm on Derek's chest makes him feel content. It's not sexual at all, not right now, and Derek's feelings for Stiles might enhance things a bit, but the closeness and abandon of this guy trusting that he'll keep away the nightmares just by being close is a gift. He sure hopes it works, and slowly, he lets the slow beat of Stiles' heart, so close to his own, lull him back to sleep.

**

From then on, Stiles makes a habit of slipping into Derek's bed in the middle of the night. Derek almost tells him that it's stupid to start in his own bed if they'll end up together anyway, but the thing is that as soon as Stiles wakes up, he rolls away, gets up and acts as if nothing happened. He doesn't look embarrassed like the first morning, instead he just goes about starting his day and making breakfast as if he wasn't just drooling on Derek's own pillow case 15 minutes before.

Since the Sheriff died, a lot of Derek's strategy to interact with Stiles has been to let him do what he wants and roll with the rest, being as non-judgmental as he can. He does the same with this, and clamps down on the need to open his arms in invitation when Stiles shuts off the TV at night. More than once, Derek thinks that maybe Stiles is waiting for him to make a move, to bring it to the next level, but he's frankly too scared of being wrong to try.

One night, after a week of nightly visits, Stiles stays in his own bed all night. Derek hears him tossing and turning without ever drifting off, and Derek doesn't sleep a bit either. The next day they are both tired and grumpy, and Derek is relieved that when night comes, Stiles moves to Derek's bed earlier than he's ever done. They fall asleep quickly, and when morning comes they still don't talk about it.

***

If nights are mostly spent cuddling, platonically, their days are filled with asphalt and random visits.

Right after entering South Dakota, with Sioux Falls still in the rear view mirror, Stiles decides that they absolutely need to go to Wall.

"Where's that?" Derek asks.

"Kind of on the other side of the state?" Stiles gestures, waving his phone. "About 4 hours away."

"And what's so important in Wall, South Dakota?"

"The Wall Drug Store!"

"The Wall Drug Store." He can't help the flat intonation. A drug store? Really?

"Yes!" Stiles really sounds enthusiastic about it.

The little shit probably caught on that Derek will go anywhere without so much of a grumble when he sounds like that.

"Why?"

"It gives free water?" Stiles laughs. "It looks perfect. Dinosaurs. Stuffed animals. I could get a picture while mounted on a giant saddled fiberglass jackalope."

Derek smiles, amused. "You should have led with that."

He ends up following Stiles' direction and they spend a whole day doing a detour to go to the Wall Drug Store. It is worth it, if only to take a picture of Stiles on the jackalope, grin as wide as it gets.

***

Being cooped up in the car gets old some days. Stiles is driving today and Derek feels restless. He hasn't seriously trained in days, and he has the itch to shift and run. The day is absolutely gorgeous, the temperature is near freezing but the sun is shining and the sky is clear blue.

"What's up with you?" Stiles asks.

Stiles might not be able to detect chemosignals, but he's always been observant.

"We've been in the car a lot," Derek says, looking out of his window. The land is flat, snow-covered fields stretching as far as he can see, with sometimes a patch of trees to break the monotony.

"Want to stop, stretch your legs a bit?"

"Yeah," Derek says immediately. He just needs to burn some energy.

"You know, I was told this trip wasn't just for me. So if you want something, you ask, dude," Stiles chides. He doesn't seem mad, though.

"Okay."

Stiles pulls over and goes to get his winter coat in the back of the car. Derek, on the other hand, starts stripping. By the time Stiles starts looking for him, perplexed, Derek is in wolf form already. He rounds the car and pushes behind Stiles' knee with his snout.

"Jeez, warn a guy!" Stiles says after flailing with surprise.

Feeling playful, Derek runs and jumps in the snow near the road. He sinks in a bit, there's maybe 7 inches of it, mostly powder. It's easy to run in, and he takes a sprint into the field next to where they are parked, liking how the snow lifts around him. After a couple of hundred feet, he zig zags just for the heck of it, then stops because there's a little creek just up ahead. Snow's fun, but getting drenched wouldn't be, so Derek turns, and sees that Stiles is watching him with a smile. He's walking slowly in his direction, hands in his pockets.

"Having fun, big guy?" he shouts.

Yes, Derek decides. He's having fun, but he could have even more fun. He starts moving towards Stiles in a trot, but then goes faster and faster until he's running full tilt. It's only when Stiles realizes they are on a collision path that he shrieks.

"Oh no no no!" he says, flailing. He tries to run away towards the car but it's a pathetic try.

The goal isn't to hurt Stiles, so Derek doesn't jump on his back. He does pass very very close, enough that they brush together and Stiles tries changing direction.

"Oh no, you beast!" Stiles says.

He's laughing, so Derek jumps in front of him again, and this time Stiles does collide with his side and bounces back in the snow.

"Ack!"

Stiles is on his back on the ground and he's trying to find some way of retaliating. He tries to makes a snowball, but he's a California boy who knows nothing about winter, since snow this dry won't stick. When he realizes his error, Stiles tries throwing handfuls of snow at Derek but that does very little damage. In retaliation, Derek jumps on him and just lies down, pinning Stiles to the ground.

"Oh my god, you can't just crush me like that, no fair!" he says, hands fisted in Derek's fur where he's holding on more than anything.

Stiles' face is still split in a wide grin, cheeks red from the cold and eye dancing. Caught in the moment, Derek forgets himself and he licks the edge of his jaw. It's affection and bonding all rolled into one, but Stiles treats it like an attack.

"Oh, eww! You're playing dirty, wolfman!" Stiles says, squirming and now trying to get away.

Derek is amused, and decides that he has nothing to lose, and tries to lick him some more. It's not kisses, but as close as he's probably going to get… so why not? This way, as a wolf, it's not even awkward. Stiles all but shrieks at the attempted tongue bath and they start to play wrestle in the snow, to the sound of Stiles' laughter and Derek's playful growls.

***

One morning, their little unspoken platonic cuddling routine is upended when Stiles kisses him. Derek's the little spoon, in between awake and asleep and enjoying how Stiles fits against his back. He's minutes away from overheating, but he doesn't want to push Stiles away. In fact, he's got a loose hold on Stiles' wrist, keeping Stiles' arm around him for a change. It's comfortable, and by now he's pretty good at controlling his body's reaction, or at least he's able to act unaffected or conceal the evidence. Derek has woken up with morning wood pretty much each day, and if in his case it's not helped by the fact that the object of his affection is touching him, it's just a guy thing, normal. He knows that the same thing has been happening to Stiles too, he's smelled arousal on him just before he wakes up, but as soon as he's conscious the desire dries up almost instantly.

Having a hopeless crush is a peculiar thing. Even though you know you should cut your losses and just let go, there's always that little part of your subconscious that hopes and makes up fantasy scenarios. When they first started sleeping in the same bed, intertwined, Derek did hope it meant that Stiles wanted more than comfort and a ward against bad dreams. But obviously not, since there isn't a hint of curiosity or longing, not even lust when Stiles is awake.

But then there's that kiss, deliberate, at the back of Derek's neck. Immediately, Derek's heart speeds up and he can't move, totally confused. He must have dropped Stiles hand, though, who now traces gentle loops on the skin of Derek's belly, lazy and easy, but there is no mistaking that Stiles' heart is beating faster, too. His own want hits Derek like a tidal wave, and his hard on goes from an annoyance to an urgent ache, breath already fast and shallow.

"I’m not imagining things, right? You want me?" Stiles whispers against Derek's neck, which makes goose bumps bloom on the area.

Before Derek can answer, Stiles kisses his neck again, open mouthed and wet. A soft breathless moan is punched out of Derek, which is answer enough, even if it is mortifying.

"You do," Stiles murmurs, both awed and smug, which seem contradictory but he pulls it off.

Unable to just stay there and do nothing, Derek rolls over and immediately kisses Stiles, hands capturing his head to keep him close. The kiss is filthy, deep and urgent in seconds, and Derek feels as if his heart is going to beat out of his chest with how much he's wanted this. Stiles gives as good as he gets, forceful and with nips at Derek's lips that are hard enough to sting.

It's passionate, it's relentless, but something isn't quite right and it takes Derek almost a minute to realize what it is with how overwhelmed he feels. Yes, Stiles is into the kiss, he's making sounds that are going right to Derek's cock, Stiles' own dick is hard and pressed to Derek's thigh. But apart from the biological scent of physical arousal, there's no chemosignals. No emotion, good or bad and it's like Derek is drenched in ice water. He physically recoils, hands going to Stiles' shoulders and pushing him away.

"No no no," Stiles protests, trying to lean forward to kiss him again. "Don't stop!"

"Why?" Derek demands, torn between the desire to pull Stiles back in and his instinct that tells him this is wrong.

"Why?" Stiles asks. His pupils are blown wide, and he's definitely hard so his body wants this, wants release. But Derek isn't sure he can go through with it if he doesn't want him. "Come on, Derek, don't do this to me!"

Derek shakes his head. "I can't," he says, rolling to his back again, feeling like he's being ripped in two. All he wants is to take what is offered.

Stiles whines in the back of his throat. "But it could be so good," he says. "I know it, you do too. And you want me, why did you stop."

"It might not matter to you," Derek explains as he rolls away, sits on the edge of the bed, his back to the temptation that is Stiles with his kiss-swollen lips, flushed cheeks and the obvious bulge of his hard on. Derek will need a long cold shower to calm down. "But I can't. Too much like… I can't."

He won't take advantage like that, no matter if Stiles seems more than willing.

"What do you mean it doesn't matter to me?" Stiles asks.

Derek chances a quick glance and Stiles looks deeply perplexed, and more than a little frustrated. Visually, at least, Derek realizes. Because he smells blank, unaffected.

"You know about my heightened sense of smell," Derek tries to explain, which is met with a wall of nothing but visual frustration. "I can't have sex with someone that doesn't smell like they want it. I can't," he repeats once again.

Stiles is stunned when Derek looks over again.

"What?"

Derek won't repeat himself and shakes his head, rubbing at his face. Jesus Christ, this is a mess. He has no idea how they'll get past this.

And then Stiles starts laughing, slightly hysterically. The blatant dismissal of how important this is angers Derek, who gets up and intends to just get out when Stiles lunges and catches his wrist. He's still chuckling.

"Oh my god. Derek, please. Let me explain."

He has no idea what there is to explain, but Derek does sit down again. Slowly, as if approaching a wild animal, Stiles scoots over and, when Derek doesn't protest, drapes himself over his back, arms around Derek's torso and his forehead resting on his shoulder. It does calm Derek a little, though he's still confused and hurt.

"I worked with Deaton, a while back, to find ways to protect myself," Stiles says.

"I know," Derek says. "Mountain ash, some wards, the scent thing."

"Yes, yes, exactly. The scent thing. If the big bad doesn't know I'm scared, it will throw them and they'll hesitate maybe the fraction of a second I need to save my hide," Stiles says.

It makes no sense to talk about it right now unless…

"I know you're masking your scent right now. You always do. You're blocking… that?" Derek asks.

"Yeah," Stiles says softly. "Confusing the baddies is the official cover. I learned to mask it for you."

"What? Why!" Derek is officially lost. Why would Stiles feel he had to do this?

"Because it was harder and harder to hide how gone I was on you. You don't like being hit on, it was plain to see, and with your past I get it."

To be fair, that's true. Derek knows how to take advantage of his looks when he needs to, but he does get uncomfortable when he's forced into it, objectified or hit on. He keeps coming back to Stiles saying he's interested, though. Or was when he learned that trick.

Stiles keeps talking, heart steady. "Two years ago, you were just getting your life back together. You had a girlfriend. I felt you didn't need having a horny teen around, lusting after you all the time. So I learned to hide it."

Yes, sure, Stiles had smelled horny, but Derek hadn't made the connection that it was towards him specifically. Maybe he would have, eventually, but frankly he wasn't looking for it at that time. His own physical attraction to Stiles came later, when he'd grown into his frame a little. When Derek had realized that he was young, yes, but not innocent and in total control of his choices. Nothing like Derek had been with Kate.

"And you never stopped," Derek realizes.

"I never stopped. Big part of it is that around that time, you became more comfortable around me. Less on edge, and we started to spend more time together."

"That's because we were becoming closer friends, not because I suddenly couldn't smell attraction coming from you," Derek says.

Stiles chuckles. "Try and see it from my perspective, though. Your crush starts spending more time with you right after he can't sense it on you anymore. Felt to me as if you were relieved it was gone because it spared you from letting me down gently."

It's not so far fetched, Derek has to admit.

"Why didn't you stop hiding when you realized I was interested back?" That defies the imagination.

"I didn't know!" Stiles mumbles. "I really bought the supportive friend thing."

This time Derek does roll his eyes, even if Stiles can't see. "You're a fucking idiot. And shut up, I'm your friend, that wasn't fake."

Stiles huffs a laugh, hugs him a little tighter. "I know it wasn't. You're a great friend, Derek, and you did so much, especially since…"

When Stiles chokes up, Derek taps his hand. "It's okay. I wanted to. But goddamnit, Stiles, you know how important the chemosignals are. I've wondered if you were flirting for a bit, but I'd dismiss it because your body told me no."

"I'm sorry. It's like second nature by now to block. I've had it so tightly under control, especially towards you, for years."

And when his control had slipped, at his father's death, of course all that came out was anger, pain and grief. It wasn't the time for sentiments and lust.

"You know that it's a all or nothing block, right?" Stiles asks. "I can't manufacture an emotion that I don't feel – I've tried, I'm not there yet - and I block everything that comes out, good or bad."

"Yes."

It's the one reason Derek relies on chemosignals so much. They're very hard to fake, and combined with heartbeats, it helps having clues how to judge people. Not that it's fool proof, of course it's not. Kate had radiated excitement, lust and a fierce joy, but Derek had interpreted it all wrong. It was a predator ensnaring its prey, not genuine care for him.

"Are you really sure you want me to let go of it?" Stiles murmurs. "There's no coming back, once it's out."

Derek fails to see how it could be bad. A good deal of lust but also mistrust? Derek is certain that they are past that. This whole conversation has been akin to emotional whiplash, and he's ready to move on. He turns while Stiles scoots back on the bed. His face is open, but there's a great deal of nervousness, too. Stiles felt the need to hide what he's felt for years, what if Stiles' the one not ready to let go?

"I can't do this, us -" Derek says, gesturing between them, the bed, whatever they were going to do earlier and more, maybe, "if I can't be sure you really want it. But I can wait until you're ready to show me. And if it's too important for you to protect yourself, even from me, and we stay just friends, I'll respect that."

It would be a blow, and it would hurt, but he won't pressure Stiles into anything.

Stiles' face turns fond and soft, and he reaches to cup Derek's face.

"How can someone be so perfect?" he says.

"I'm not," Derek says, and can't resist turning his head a little to put rub his nose on Stiles' wrist, raising an eyebrow in self-derision. "I've got lots of issues."

Stiles laughs. "Don't we all."

He cards his fingers in Derek's hair, scrutinizing his face.

"I can't detect chemosignals," he says. "What about you? You physically want me, that was obvious before, but do you want to do this? Us?"

"Yes. Whatever you can give me," he says, with total honesty.

The smile that blooms on Stiles' face is breathtaking.

"Okay, okay," he says, closing the distance between them for a light kiss on the lips.

And then, as if the floodgates have opened, chemosignals start pouring out of Stiles. There is a faint touch of nervousness, but what surprises Derek the most is that it's not desire that dominates his scent, but love and affection, pure and strong. It's heady in the best way, throwing Derek's heartbeat into overdrive because it means that he and Stiles are even more in synch than he thought. Stiles makes sure that they are looking in each other's eyes, the opposite of hiding, and when Derek's mouth falls slightly open in surprise at the intensity of the sentiments, he can almost taste them, too.

"Oh," Derek says, unable to be more articulate.

He must look shocked or it's not the reaction Stiles was looking for because anxiety starts souring the scent. Stiles winces, and starts to lean back.

"I know, I know. Bit much-"

Immediately Derek just… launches himself at Stiles, flattens him on the bed and puts his face in Stiles' neck, breathing in a degree of affection and love that he hadn't even dreamed of in his wildest fantasies. It goes a long way in reassuring Stiles who starts laughing, clearing out the bitter scent of embarrassment for pure joy.

"Okay then!"

"Same," Derek says, urgent. It's critical that Stiles knows that since he can't smell it on him. "I feel the same."

It's not in human social convention to confess one's forever love at the very start of a relationship, but it itches to come out anyway. Derek does love Stiles, so much already, and knowing it's reciprocated is the best thing that has ever happened to him. Close second is that he can now allow himself to touch Stiles, since he's sure it's wanted. Very wanted, as Stiles hands are roaming on his back, sliding towards his ass and pure lust spices up the mix.

"Kiss me," Stiles demands, urgent.

That Derek can do. He proceeds with enthusiasm, a kiss that is hard and deep from the get go because this, this is everything. Stiles makes the best sounds, between moans and grunts, giving as good as he gets as they kiss, hands now shoved into Derek's pajama pants which urge him to grind down, seeking friction. Derek's hard-on that had all but disappeared in his earlier freak out is back with a vengeance, and feeling Stiles hard against him, only a couple of layers of fabric away from skin on skin, makes his head spin.

"I knew it," Stiles says, panting, when Derek has to back up a little to breathe himself, nose going back to Stiles' ear, reveling in the intoxicating smell of him.

"Knew what?" he asks, but find himself distracted as he starts to suck on the fine skin of Stiles' throat.

"Ngh-" is his answer for a moment as he arches against Derek, arousal spiking. So he likes to be marked, good to know.

"Knew you didn't wear underwear under your pajamas. It was driving me nuts," Stiles does manage to say when Derek stops sucking on his neck to contemplate how nice the hickey he just made is.

"That's not how I usually sleep," Derek says.

The mark is nice and dark already, but he decides he needs to make it bigger, an obvious sign to everyone that Stiles is taken. He goes back to work, nibbling and sucking hard just a little higher near the ear.

Stiles lets out a chocked moan. "Jesus fuck. R'you a werewolf or a vampire?" Stiles asks, hands gripping tight at the globes of Derek's ass, but he tilts his head a bit to give Derek more space to work. "And liar, I'm sure you've been free-balling it all along."

Derek laughs, looks up to take in Stiles kiss-swollen lips, pupils huge and hair going everywhere like a demented hedgehog. He's so gorgeous. Beautiful and his for the time being, and Derek's heart swoops in his chest.

"Not lying. I've been wearing pajama pants for your sake. I usually sleep naked."

Stiles eyes go unfocused for a fraction of a second, and Derek can feel his dick twitch against his hip. It makes Derek grin wider.

"Good call," Stiles says, voice tight. "It probably would have made my head explode."

"Or other things," Derek replies, raising an eyebrow.

Stiles retaliates to the taunt by grinding up, lewd and unequivocal, and it makes Derek suck in a breath between his teeth with how good it feels.

"Okay, that's enough," Derek replies, pulling away.

There's a distressed sound and grabby hands trying to keep him close, at least until Stiles realizes that Derek is scooting down the bed. Stiles' own pajama pants, the Sharknado ones still, are quickly dealt with, along with the underwear (surprisingly black and plain).

"Oh my god," Stiles says as Derek takes a minute to appreciate the sight of his dick, flushed a dark red, tip gleaming with pre-come already. The smell is almost overpowering, sex, musk and want, a deep, deep want that echoes through Derek like a siren song.

"Want a picture?" Stiles says, trying for a joke but his voice is thrumming with anticipation.

"Wouldn't say no," Derek says. He scoots down the bed some more until he can kneel on the floor and yanks a flailing Stiles where he wants him, ass right at the edge. Derek plans on taking his time, best be comfortable for it.

"Jesus Christ!" Stiles exclaims, fingers finding purchase on the top of Derek's shoulders. "Sure, Derek, manhandle me like a ragdoll!"

Derek looks at the flush on Stiles' cheek, detects nothing but want and consent in the air and he smirks.

"Go ahead, tell me you don't like it."

Stiles laughs, throwing his head back. "Got me there. I love it."

It's a serious issue, though, so Derek kisses the inside of his thigh. "But if I do anything at all, even something small, that you don't like, you've got to tell me immediately."

"Yes, okay. Got it. Please-" Stiles begs, squirming right before Derek's face.

As far as incentives go, it works pretty well. Without touching Stiles' cock with his hand, not yet, Derek licks one of the prominent veins slowly with the tip of his tongue. It doesn't give Stiles much apart from a tease, and he knows it. Derek hovers at the top, swipes his tongue quickly across the head of his dick for a taste. Stiles' pre-come isn't magically good, but it's gratifying to make him groan. Stiles is visibly trying to be good by not shoving his dick in Derek's face, but he's growing impatient.

"You're a tease," he accuses.

"Uh huh," Derek says, rubbing his lips up and down Stiles' erection, reveling on how soft and hot the skin is. "But I'm going to make you feel so good, you'll see."

"I'm gonna die," Stiles says dramatically. His heartbeat doesn't even skip a beat.

Taking pity, Derek pins Stiles' pelvis to the bed by holding his hips firmly and then sucks him in. He goes as low as he can on the first try, which isn't full deep throat but close. It's been a while since Derek's sucked cock, but he has a feeling he's going to get the hang of it back pretty fast. Especially since he's planning on doing it a lot. Stile's dick feels great, a decent length and a good girth, and Derek starts bobbing his head, encouraged by the constant praises now pouring from Stiles mouth.

"Oh, fuck! So good, Jesus, your mouth. This, this is how I'm going to die. My life essence sucked through my dick. You're not part vampire but part incubus, I swear," Stiles babbles, voice gone raspy as if he's the one getting his throat fucked.

His hands are fluttering incessantly, from carding fingers into Derek's hair, petting him, then squeezing his shoulder before starting all over again. He's way too coherent, though, which Derek takes as if he's not doing good enough.

Derek considers making it a joke, but it's kind of a big deal. He's only had sex with two people, Jennifer and Braeden, with whom he was 'out' as a werewolf. Looking back, Jennifer was another trap, and as for Braeden, Derek was practically human for most of that time. He never shifted with them, even a flash of eyes, since it had been ingrained forever that it was a side of him that he had to hide from strangers, even lovers. He'd even tried to conceal it from Kate, but it was probably one of the things she laughed about later, as he was so young and barely in control. But now, with Stiles? He can actually be playful about it, without fearing that Stiles will run for the hills.

He pulls off Stiles' cock with a hard suck that makes him groan beautifully, and Derek only talks when Stiles raises his head from the bed to look at him properly, wondering why he stopped.

"Nah," Derek says. "One hundred percent werewolf," he adds, letting his eyes shine blue and his fangs drop as he grins.

To his complete surprise – and obviously Stiles' too, by the face he makes – that's what pushes Stiles over the edge. He comes, just like that, all over his belly with nothing touching his dick. On one hand, Derek had planned to take Stiles apart slowly, an option that has sadly just been taken from him. On the other hand, Stiles in the throws of orgasm is absolutely gorgeous, whatever caused it. As a bonus, he's got teasing and blackmail material for life.

Derek does refrain from outright laughing out loud because in-between waves of post-coital bliss he does sense a tendril of mortification. He doesn't wait for Stiles to get all of his wits back before he surges up on the bed and kisses his still slack mouth. He even distracts Stiles by hauling him back smoothly towards the headboard, to his pillow, which makes him laugh.

He can't resist teasing for long.

"Werewolf kink, huh?" he states in the crook of Stiles' neck, making his voice growly on purpose. He adds a drag of fangs for effect, and isn't disappointed when it makes Stiles' spent dick twitch between them. "That might come in handy."

It earns him a slap behind the head.

"Oh god, stop it, this is mortifying. But yes. Big, big, big kink, you have no idea. Which reminds me why this emotion shield thingy is such a great idea in group situations."

Fortunately, Stiles isn't trying to hide his feelings, good and uncomfortable alike.

"I don't mind. I'm thrilled you like it," Derek says, rolling his hips down to rub against Stiles' belly.

Making him come, even so unexpectedly, was great but Derek's hard and desperate himself now that he's not focusing on Stiles' pleasure. The movement shakes Stiles from his momentary almost-shame and throws him back in the game.

"Oh, hey, let me-" he says, pushing Derek's pajama pants down his thighs, scent going back fully to lust and want.

"Yes," Derek hisses when one of Stiles' big hands wraps around his cock. The touch is electric and he thrusts into Stiles' grip.

All ideas of going slow and making this last are thrown out of the window when Stiles starts a punishing stroking rhythm that makes sparks travel from Derek's dick to all of his nervous system.

"I can't believe I get to touch you," Stiles says, right in his ear. "You have a beautiful cock, I'm not surprised at all. Everything about you is gorgeous."

It seems Stiles gets talkative after an orgasm. Or maybe that's just how he is in everything, even sex. It works for Derek.

"You feel so good. It's going to be even better inside me," Stiles adds, and the mere idea makes Derek bite at Stiles' shoulder to distract himself. He can feel pre-come dripping from his cock, easing Stiles' movements. "You'll fuck me, right?"

"Yes." It's a heartfelt promise. "After. Too gone now."

Stiles sounds delighted. "Yeah? Want to come, too?"

"Yes," Derek repeats, snapping his hips. God, he's close, and it's building so much.

With the hand not making Derek lose his mind, Stiles guides' him into a filthy kiss. It proves to demand too much brainpower he doesn’t have anymore, so Derek breaks the kiss and just breathes against Stiles' pretty mouth, fast and shallow.

"Stiles, Stiles," he find himself repeating, completely powerless on the edge of release.

"Come for me," Stiles asks.

It's like a rubber band snapping, the release immediate; the resulting orgasm is an encompassing feeling that obliterates reality and replaces it with pure pleasure for blissful moments.

He must have lost a bit of time because when Derek comes back to himself, he is pinning Stiles to the bed with his weight, face back in his neck. The heady mix of contentment and sex, of them, mingled together, is probably the best thing Derek has ever smelled in his life. Plus it's comfortable, so he isn't planning on moving anytime soon.

"Oh yeah," Stiles says, obviously pleased with himself and with life in general.

His hands are sweeping up and down Derek's back, which feels amazing. His breathing does seem a little strained, though, which is likely caused by 185 pounds of werewolf being deadweight on him. Reluctantly, Derek rolls over onto his back, but by habit he extends his arm and Stiles immediately cuddles close.

This is definitely good too, both familiar and new. He kisses the top of Stiles' head and decides he could happily spend all day like this. Stiles is now running his fingers on Derek's chest, light touches that should be soothing but instead are teasing just like his voice.

"Just for a FYI, in the name of science," he starts. "I love catching but I'm also fond of pitching, if that's something you'd be into."

Derek huffs a laugh. "Is that so? Well that's good, because I'm versatile, too."

In fact, the fantasy of Stiles using those long fingers of his to prep Derek for a good fuck is one of his foolproof jerk-off go tos. Just thinking about it makes him hot, and his dick twitches.

"Oh, good," Stiles says, more than pleased. He saw that. "Just give me a minute or ten, I'll get right on that."

Derek looks at him and raises an eyebrow. "Want me to flash my fangs at you some more? For science?"

Stiles laughs heartily. "I'm never going to live that one down, right?"

He turns on his side so it's easier to swoop in and kiss Stiles, who winds his arms around Derek's neck as they make out. He does pull back briefly to tell Stiles, while looking at him straight in the eyes. "Never ever."

It's both a playful menace and a promise, and Stiles laughs before kissing him some more.

***

Right around the time they'd have to check out, Derek looks outside to discover it's snowing. Not that much, and there's practically no wind, there's maybe half an inch of snow covering the ground and clinging to everything.

Stiles walks over and stands behind him, arms looping around his waist, to look outside, too. Derek leans back, enjoying the closeness even though they've only spent a couple of minutes without touching since the morning.

"Oh. Pretty."

"Not as much as you," Derek says automatically – and he's serious – which makes Stiles laugh, amused.

"You're as much of a sap as Scott, aren't you?"

Maybe he is. "You mind?"

"Nah. It's cute," Stiles says, kissing Derek's ear. "Is it safe to go?"

"It's almost nothing," Derek says. He's driven in a lot worse.

"But it could get slippery," Stiles says. "I don't know, maybe it would be safer to stay put."

Judging by the smell of desire that is steadily rising, it's a convenient excuse. One that Derek is more than happy to latch onto.

"Could be, weather changes pretty fast. I guess we could stay one more day, order in," he says.

He turns around to face Stiles and catches his hips, pulls him close.

"Yep," Stiles says, eyes dancing with mirth. "I have a feeling things will get slippery."

The line is so terrible that Derek hauls Stiles up as he laughs at his own joke and he throws him on the bed.

"Think about how ridiculous you are while I call the front desk," Derek says.

Stiles is still cackling when Derek reaches the clerk.

**

"Where are we going today?" Derek asks, as he does every morning.

"Let's go North," Stiles says, before sitting down in the car, pulling on his sunglasses.

Apart from sudden expeditions to drug stores, North has been the steady answer for days now. They are bound to hit Canada soon at this pace.

Stiles still hasn't repressed the chemosignals, which makes Derek happy. If it was mostly to hide his feeling from Derek, he doesn't need to anymore, anyway. Right now, he's pleased and sated, echoing Derek in every way. Derek drives with no hurries, turning on little roads when Stiles points at them.

"Come on, take this one. It should take us right to Wolf Lake," he says, thrilled.

Derek rolls his eyes, but turns. Of course he does.

It's a beautiful day, the sun reflecting on the snow that fell the day before, and they're driving on a county road with a low speed limit. The road curves and as they start going down a slight hill, they notice an outdoor ice rink, with people bundled up on rickety stands, cheering on the action.

"Want to stop?" Derek asks, seeing it has caught Stiles' interest.

"Yes, I'd like that," he answers, already putting his hat on and zipping up his coat.

The game in progress is with kids that must be five or six, at most. Their arrival does draw attention from the parents and siblings watching the game, they are strangers after all. Derek wonders if it was a good idea to stop, but Stiles immediately walks towards an older man beside the stands who has a young German Sheppard sitting at his feet. Stiles has a very hard time resisting approaching puppies. The dog, that looked ecstatic to make a new friend when Stiles was coming closer, hides behind his master's shins at the last second.

"Hello sir," Stiles says. Derek can't see, as he's walking behind Stiles, but he must be giving the man a disarming smile. "What a cute puppy! Can I pet him?"

"Sure," the man says. "Come on, Bub, don't be shy! He's not like this, normally."

"Bub? Hey Bub, I'm Stiles," he says after crouching down, extending his hand.

"Stiles? Say hello, Bub. I'm Frank."

"Nice to meet you," Stiles says. "And this is Derek," he says, before shifting his attention back to the dog.

Derek nods at Frank, before watching with interest how Bub will react.

The puppy is wagging his tail, eager. He steps forward cautiously to sniff Stiles' fingers, gives a quick lick but then immediately looks at Derek and hides again. Ooops. He must smell the wolf, and it's possible that Derek made sure that Stiles was thoroughly scent marked before they left the motel, even after their shower. Stiles catches on and throws Derek a look, raising his eyebrows. Derek replies with a shrug, before crouching down himself. He whistles, sharp, and puts a gentle suggestion in his voice when he calls the puppy.

"Come here, boy."

He's not an alpha anymore, but wolf trumps dog and instinctively the pup obeys, coming over. It's a beautiful dog, hair semi-long and big ears still floppy, and Derek is as open and friendly as he can be as he scratches Bub behind the ears. It's that easy to win him over and the puppy immediately rolls on his back in the snow, showing his throat and belly in submission while wagging his tail wildly.

"Unfair," Stiles says, pouting.

Derek smirks as Bub scrambles back up and tries to lick his face. He catches the dog's head for more ear rubbing in self defense and makes him look at Stiles.

"Come on, go see Stiles."

Bub is happy to comply and runs right back to Stiles, who laughs in delight when he's almost bulldozed by the over-enthusiastic ball of fur.

"You boys driving through?" Frank asks.

"Yes," Stiles says, doing his best to avoid most of the slobbering. "We're headed towards –"

He trails off, obviously at a loss, and Derek takes pity.

"Bemidji," he provides. "We've read about the Paul Bunyan and Babe statues?"

There was a flyer in their hotel room.

Frank laughs. "Those old thing? I guess. It would have been faster to take the 71."

"We're in no hurry," Derek says.

"Yeah. Vacations, you know? Just driving around. It was time to stretch our legs, and this place looks nice. Is one of them yours?" Stiles asks, getting up and pointing at the kids. Bub is sitting on his boots, now.

"Two, actually," Frank says, visibly proud. "Sophie is in the goal," he points to the goalie in red. She might be slight, but she seems intent as she stands guard near her net, moving right and left to follow the action. Frank points at a little boy next who has fallen on his ass at least twice, but is getting back up. "And that's Alec. As you can see, he's been practicing skating backwards but he's not quite there yet."

Frank nonetheless gives what must be his grandson a thumbs up.

Stiles laughs. "Yeah. I feel his pain."

The puck somehow ends up in a corner near Sophie while all of the other players are packed near the blue goalie, on the other side of the ice. A little guy, who'd fallen down earlier and had been basically left behind as he tried to get up again, finds himself in the situation of having the puck and being one on one against Sophie.

"Come on, Max!" a woman shouts from the stands.

"You can do it, son!" adds one of the assistant coaches on the blue bench. "Come on, easy, push steady and keep your eyes where you want to send the puck, just like we practiced, okay? That's it!"

Stiles is looking at the action, intent. It surprises Derek when a wave of grief hits him, and he walks to Stiles' side, worried.

"You okay?" he asks.

Stiles nods. "I was pretty terrible at hockey, too. Dad used to say the same things."

Stiles does cheer when little Max manages to hit the puck, sending it in the little gap between Sophie's skate and the goal post. Max – sporting a shocked expression when he realized he scored – throws both hands in the air, hockey stick included, before falling straight on his ass.

"Sorry Frank, but I tend to cheer for the underdog!" Stiles says, clapping along with the parents of the blue team when the players huddle around Max to celebrate. The assistant coach is beaming at his son, who's now puffed up with pride.

Frank laughs. "That's alright. It was a good shot!"

"Yeah, yeah, it was," Stiles says softly. "Best feeling in the world."

"You played hockey?" Derek asks.

It's surprising, because it's not that popular a sport in Beacon Hills, at least it wasn't when Derek was younger.

"A good Polish boy should know how to skate," Stiles says with a half smile. "But it was clear pretty fast it wasn't for me. So I didn't play long. Dad still took me to skate, sometimes."

Which explains the sudden emotion, and Derek feels bad for suggesting they stop, now. Stiles had been doing so well today.

"Do you want to go?" he asks.

"No," Stiles says. The sadness is there, very present, but not overpowering. "No, this is good."

Visibly it's bringing back good times and Derek relaxes, trusting that it's just what Stiles needs right now. Not all memories have to be painful, though you've got to learn to accept that they can hurt even if they are nice.

It's called healing, a little at a time.

**

They have sex every evening, but when it comes to actually sleeping - if they don't just pass out afterwards - Derek still goes to bed earlier than Stiles. It doesn't bother him at all, he knows that Stiles needs to be exhausted to sleep because of the nightmares and he doesn't require more than 5 hours. Derek enjoys the quiet time, too, just lying down close to Stiles who is sitting against the headboard as he drifts in and out of consciousness himself. And Stiles generally plays with his hair while doing whatever he does before being ready to sleep, which is awesome.

Tonight, Stiles is fiddling with his phone, which isn't unusual at all. When Stiles' heart accelerates and his scent starts changing to a mix of anticipation and dread, Derek wonders what's wrong. He's debating if he should ask what is going on when he hears the ringing coming from the phone. Stiles is calling someone.

When it picks up, Derek hears Scott's voice, unmistakably worried. "Stiles? Derek? Are you alright?"

"Yes, yes, we're fine," Stiles says.

There's so much nervousness in the air, Derek debates letting Stiles know he's awake. He wants to assure him that it's going to be all right, that Scott has been impatiently waiting for this call for weeks.

"Thank god." Scott's relief is heartfelt.

There's a pause as Scott lets Stiles go at his pace, which is good. Maybe he learned something.

"Hey," Stiles finally says.

"Hi!" Scott replies immediately, so obviously happy. "It's great to hear from you! Where are you at? Is America treating you good?"

"We're in Minnesota, and you bet your ass. You wouldn't believe the amount of greasy food I've consumed in 40 days."

"Minnesota! Cool. Where else have you been? Did you see the Grand Canyon?"

The easy back and forth makes Stiles relax, his heart slowing down and anxiety receding. He even starts playing with Derek's hair again, who decides to play possum to let him enjoy the moment.

"Yeah, it was great. I did love Arizona and Nevada, though Derek didn't want to stop in Las Vegas because he said it's too crowded and noisy. Such a weenie. The Hoover Dam was cool, though. I've fed alligators in the Bayou, that was great. They really, really don't care about werewolves by the way. Kansas was a bit repetitive. And I've been loving the frozen lakes here and the snow. There's, like, 10 feet of it."

Hyperbole, but that's okay.

"Wow, it sounds amazing. I wish I wasn't stuck here for the time being. A road trip sounds pretty good," Scott says.

"How are you holding up?"

"Oh, it's fine. We did have some over zealous hunters that decided that they wanted prove something or some shit. Their motto was 'Who needs a fucking Code, let's kill anything not 100% human and then some'. But, fortunately, Chris had connections and he came through. Weirdly, the Calaveras helped."

"Really?"

"Yeah. I guess Derek going full wolf on Kate left an impression."

"He does that," Stiles says fondly, petting Derek's head.

Derek would huff a token protestation, but it feels weird now, as if he'd intrude on a private conversation. He'll tell Stiles that he heard everything once he hangs up.

"So, were you calling to brag about how you're banging Derek?" Scott asks.

The question makes Derek choke on his own spit, which is a dead giveaway that he's been overhearing it all.

Since the cat is out of the bag, he looks at Stiles whose eyes are huge, as surprised as he is. They don't know how to react to that.

"What?" Stiles croaks. "How did you know?"

"What? You are?" Scott exclaims and they both realize it was just a joke for him. "Oh my god!"

After a moment of indecision, Stiles bursts out laughing out loud. "It's good. Real good."

Immediately Scott sounds more subdued. "Oh. That's great? Congrats?"

Even Derek wants to laugh. Scott is supportive, of course he is, but obviously he's thrown at the news.

Stiles looks at Derek with a mischievous expression. "What, surprised I finally got my hand on him? I told you I had a crush!"

"In junior year! I thought it went away! It's Derek!"

It's said with so much obvious distress, as if his best friend could not possibly fall so low, that Derek finally bursts out laughing himself.

"Oh my god, Derek's there? Sorry man! I'm happy for you, I really am!" Scott immediately says.

"Thanks!" Derek says.

Stiles looks delighted. "I've got to tell you, Scott, the sex is fantastic. Have you seen him move? He knows how to work that body. In fact, he fucks like a champion."

Derek can feel himself flush. It's flattering, but not necessarily something to share with the Alpha.

"Oh my god," Scott says, very low. Derek feels somewhat better that he's not the only one uncomfortable.

"But it's not just that," Stiles says. He still looks amused, but also so very fond. "He's… I feel alive when I’m with him."

Stiles' heartbeat is steady, even as he continues. "He's the reason I fight, that I want to go on." He trails a finger on Derek's brow, tenderly. "He's the best thing in my life."

And that’s… It means everything. Derek's heart swells at least five sizes and unfortunately Scott needs to go, even though he's cooing on the other side of the line.

"Sorry Scott," Derek says, knowing Scott will hear him even if he's not close to the phone itself. "Stiles has something to do, he'll call you back."

As he speaks he kneels up, pulling Stiles down towards the foot on the bed so he goes from sitting to lying down. He's got to ravish him right now. Stiles laughs out loud, as always delighted when Derek reverts to manhandling.

"Oh, Jesus," Scott says. "When you say something to do, you mean you, right?"

"You're a lot brighter that you let people believe, Scott," Derek says, already mouthing up Stiles' thigh, eyes on the prize. Stiles' dick is filling up fast. "Say bye, Stiles."

"Bye bye," Stiles says obediently. "I'll call you tomorrow!"

"Promise?"

"Promise," Stiles says. "Merry Christmas, Scott, say hi to everyone for me."

"Will do. Merry Christmas to you two. Talking to you was the best present, thank you. Love you."

"Love you, too," Stiles says.

Derek can't help but smile at the fondness in his tone. He's so glad they are mending their relationship, the divide was painful for everyone.

When Stiles throws the now powered-off phone aside, Derek climbs up his body and kisses him deeply.

"You're the best thing in my life, too," Derek says when he finds the will to break the kiss. "I love you."

He'll be dammed if Scott gets to say it and not him, even though he understands the difference.

Those three words have been on the tip of his tongue for a while now, and to say them out loud is freeing. He doesn't give a shit if it's too early, Stiles needs to know.

"I love you, too," Stiles immediately replies, smile wide and happy.

They might be in a somewhat shady motel in the middle of nowhere, with scratchy sheets and a light bulb that keeps buzzing, but the moment is perfect anyway.

**

Falling asleep with Stiles in his arms is, to Derek, a perfect way to end his days. There are nightmares sometimes - Derek freaks out the first time he thought he came close to scratching Stiles when he woke with claws extended - but they are pros at dealing with them now.

Being in a relationship doesn't make everything perfect, though. They still argue, sometimes viciously, but they always make up. Sex with Stiles is spectacular almost every time, and they're insatiable about each other. It doesn't help that Stiles is shameless and sneaking touches wherever they are. Derek hasn't gotten laid this frequently in his life, and it's addictive.

But watching Stiles smile at him when he first stirs, bathed in the morning's sunlight, is magical. It means Derek's going to spend another day with the love of his life. It feels as if the universe is finally giving instead of taking, and Derek sure can appreciate it.

"So," Derek says, fluffing up the hair on the side of Stiles' head where it got flattened in the night. "Where are we heading today?"

"I dunno." Stiles yawns, and scratches his stomach, diverting Derek's attention to his happy trail. The sheet hides his cock, but morning wood is probable and Derek's already making plans when Stiles continues. "I thought we might go West."

It's the very first time that Stiles suggests it as a destination and not just a means to get somewhere specific, and Derek looks up in surprise. Weirdly, Stiles seems anxious to see what he thinks about the idea.

Derek smiles and leans in to kiss Stiles' cute little nose. "As you wish."

He's always wanted to use this expression, as an homage to the Princess Bride. Derek might even make it a thing, because Stiles smiles back as he gets it, and then catches his hand, linking their fingers together.

"Let's play it by ear," he says.

"Worked for us so far," Derek agrees.

Maybe they are not going back to Beacon Hills just yet, but they'll get there. One day.

Anyway, Derek has found his true home, and it's not a place at all.

The End