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It’s not like he isn’t expecting it. He is, really; he is expecting it. Beacon Hills is a small town, and there’s only so much avoiding two people can do. Even when one of those people is antisocial, eventually they run out of milk. Eventually they need to head into the 24-hour Minit Mart and grab something at the same time as Stiles, and they’ll run into one another.

And it’ll be awkward, and they won’t be sure what to say to one another.

And it’s not like Stiles wasn’t expecting it to happen eventually. He was. He is. And it does happen.

Stiles is picking up toilet paper, milk, eggs, and bread, all the things that his dad somehow managed to forget when he went grocery shopping earlier that evening, when he turns the corner and runs right into someone. “Oh, my God, oh,” he says, automatically flying into rambling mode, stooping down to help pick up everything he’s dropped, “I am so sorry, I’m just so out of it, I don’t even –” he catches sight of the brand of milk that’s being bought then, the generic skim milk, the kind with the pink cap that Stiles knows Derek drinks, and he breaks off, because he knows the weight of that heavy stare; he’d know it anywhere. He grips his own shopping items tightly and keeps his eyes on the floor as he stands back up.

Four months.

Four months they’ve managed to avoid one another. Stiles quit going to pack meetings. He quit doing research unless Scott really, really begged him to. He avoided driving the road that led out to the turnoff to the Hale house, he avoided going to all the spots where Derek might possibly be. Four months, and now, here they are, standing in the fucking Minit Mart, Stiles thinks, staring down at the grimy tiles. He can hear the catch of Derek’s breath, and he closes his eyes and breathes deep.

==

I love you, Stiles says it one day, and it comes flying out of his mouth, whispered like a little secret, but he knows Derek can hear him. He can feel it in the way Derek freezes up against him, in the way Derek's breath catches in his throat and his fingers tighten around Stiles' wrists. Stiles says it again, says, I love you, and Derek's breath catches again.

Derek can't fathom the possibility that someone could maybe love him, Stiles thinks, and that - that hurts. So Stiles barrels on, rambles about all the things he loves about him (his overprotectiveness, the way his breath catches when Stiles bites at his throat, the way he laughs when Stiles says something sarcastic, and then tries to hide it), and his pulse flutters in his wrist and he knows Derek can feel it, the nervous feeling inside him as he tells him all of these feelings.

I love you, he says, and Derek's breath catches. He says, "I love you, and I'm not going to deny myself the simple pleasure of telling you, or holding back from loving you, or from feeling it because you or I might be scared."

==

“Stiles,” Derek says quietly, and Stiles is amazed, amazed at how his voice still sounds just the same. Menacing and firm, near frightening.

“Derek,” Stiles replies, still staring at the floor like it’s quite possibly the most interesting thing in the world, gripping his milk and eggs and bread and toilet paper like they’re his lifeline, trying to breathe deeply, all the while thinking, four months. Four months. And trying not to think, he still looks the same. He still sounds the same. He still smells the same and acts the same and holds himself the same and Jesus I miss him.

Jesus wept, Stiles thinks, Jesus fucking wept.

“Sorry for –” Stiles sweeps a hand towards Derek’s milk, which is still sitting neatly on the floor, like it’s just meant to sit out on the dirty Minit Mart tiles instead of in their refrigerators, halfway to expiration date. Derek studies him for a long moment, unblinking.

“It’s okay,” he says finally.

Stiles is about to move forward, ready to take that step towards the cash register when Derek clears his throat. He says, “How are you?” quietly, almost like it pains him to ask.

And Stiles has to close his eyes again, because it pains him to answer. He has to control his breathing and his heart rate to answer, “Fine,” and make it sound like it’s not a complete and total lie. Like he doesn’t think about Derek and Derek’s eyes and his growl or the way he sometimes looks amused when Stiles will go on a tangent.

(The way he looks sleepy after sex, the way he curls around Stiles in his sleep, the way he growls low in his throat, playfully, when he’s chasing Stiles around the house.)

Derek makes a noise in the back of his throat, “How are you?” Stiles asks carefully.

Derek just looks at him.

==

Stiles was wrong.

==

“Fine,” Derek says, shifting a little, finally bending down to pick up his half-gallon of milk.

“That’s – great. Just, really wonderful,” Stiles says, and shifts, moves towards the cash register, still talking, “I mean, I never expected anything less, Derek, I have to say. It’s really great that you’re alright, I mean – yeah. Yeah,” Stiles says again, and sets his items down on the counter, digging in his pockets for cash as the cashier rings his things up. He hands the cashier a twenty and waits for a twenty.

When he turns around, Derek is right there. “Um,” Stiles swallows, “It was – Derek –” Stiles doesn’t know what to say. “Enjoy your milk,” he finally finishes, and walks out of the Minit Mart.

When he reaches his jeep, he throws the grocery bag in the passenger side, climbs in, and grips the steering wheel, and just breathes. He leans his head against the window, closes his eyes, and focuses on steadying his breathing for a long, long time. He doesn’t know how long he sits there, but when he opens his eyes, Derek’s Camaro and Derek are both gone.

==

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” Stiles says.

“Stiles –”

“This is a joke,” Stiles spits, and Derek almost, almost flinches at Stiles’ tone.

“It’s not,” he says calmly.

“You – you fucking bastard. Who the fuck do you even think you are?” There is a deep, dark rage bubbling up inside of Stiles, and he can’t control anything spewing out of his mouth.

(Hateful words, begging, name calling, confessions of love.)

“Stiles, I’m the person making this decision,” Derek says, still just as calmly, and Stiles – Stiles can’t. He curls his fingers into his palm and stares up at Derek.

“Please don’t,” he whispers, “Please. I told you – I told you I loved you.”

Derek’s breath catches.

==

“Here,” Stiles shoves the bag of groceries into his dad’s hands, disappearing into the living room. He collapses on the couch. His dad stares at him for a moment before he wanders off into the kitchen to put everything away, before coming back to face Stiles again.

“Did something happen?” he asks, after a second’s pause.

“No,” Stiles says defensively, bouncing his knee, “Why would you think that?”

“Because half the eggs in the carton were cracked when I opened them to check them, and the bread is crushed, like you were gripping them for dear life? Because you’re quiet? You’re never quiet, Stiles,” his dad says, almost jokingly, but Stiles inhales sharply.

“I’m fine,” he says. “I’m just fine.”

“You don’t seem fine,” the Sheriff says, still studying him, and Stiles just looks at him.

“Look, I just – ran into someone at the store that I haven’t seen in a while, and it took me by surprise,” Stiles shrugs. The Sheriff is quiet for another minute, observing him.

Then he says, “Derek,” decisively, like he just knows. Stiles flinches.

“No – yes – no – how do you know?”

“Stiles, I didn’t just get voted into the Sheriff’s position because of my good looks,” his dad says, looking at him flatly, sighing, “I am actually good at my job. I know you used to be friends with him – or whatever you were. And I know you used to be hanging out with a lot of people, besides Scott. I know for whatever reason, a few months ago, you stopped. I don’t know why, but it made you upset. It makes me upset to see you that way, Stiles. You can talk to me, Stiles, you know that, right?”

Stiles swallows, stares down at the couch that is years old, a couch that his mother picked out long before he was born, that is becoming threadbare and worn, and runs his hands over it. “I know, dad,” he says softly. “I just… don’t want to talk about it, period.”

There’s silence, and then the Sheriff is reaching out, placing his hand on Stiles’ shoulder, comforting and warm, protective. “Okay, son,” he says, almost gruffly, full of emotion he doesn’t want to display,
“That’s okay.”

==
Senior year is much different than any other year of Stiles’ high school experience. Stiles ended last year with a pack, with a sort-of-boyfriend and Alpha to protect him. He ended it researching ways to bring that pack nearer, researching ways to get them out of trouble. He felt like he had a purpose, more than just going to classes, getting good grades, and trying to force himself to sit still without getting distracted all through the day.

This year, Stiles has friends, but not necessarily a pack. Lydia and Jackson and Scott and Allison – but no longer Erica and Boyd, though Isaac still sends him glances, like he wants to be near him (Scott will tell him, in the first week of his and Derek’s separation, that Isaac is not taking it well, that he has serious separation anxiety, and soon, Isaac will be the one sneaking into Stiles’ room and lying in Stiles’ bed, comforting him). He still researches things for the Pack, if Scott comes to him, but only when they are in some serious shit, because Lydia is actually really smart and pretty good at researching, too, and Allison is good, too. So only when they need an extra hand, will Scott come to him, desperately, and in secret, saying, “Derek doesn’t know I’m here but –” and explaining the whole situation. And Stiles can’t help himself.

He can’t un-love Derek, he can’t forget about a Pack he was a part of for so long, he can’t not want to help them because Derek told him not to, so he’ll do it. He’ll pull an all-nighter and find all the stuff Scott has asked him to find, put it together in a file, and shove it into Scott’s waiting hands the next morning, blinking and ignoring Scott’s sorrowful, puppy-dog expression.

He doesn’t attend pack meetings, this year. He doesn’t go on Pack outings, doesn’t watch as they do their group exercises like he knows Allison does. He doesn’t let Allison teach him how to use a crossbow like she promised she was going to do last summer, so he could defend himself a little better on the fly, because he doesn’t need to.

He doesn’t need to because Derek doesn’t want him to.

“So I was thinking we could study for our Physics test together,” Lydia says, sipping her water and tapping a nail against the table in Stiles’ direction to snap him out of his reverie. Stiles blinks and turns to her.

“Physics,” he says, nodding, “Right.”

“Stiles,” she says, cocking her head and staring at him, “What have you done?” he sighs loudly.

“Why do you automatically assume I’ve done something, huh? I’m always the one doing something, right? Well I didn’t do anything! I’m just tired. I didn’t sleep,” he says irritably.

“Why didn’t you sleep?” Allison asks, overhearing this, now concerned. Stiles tries to search for some patience.

“I just had some things on my mind,” Stiles tells them, and across the table, Scott looks a little worried. He sniffs in Stiles direction, and Stiles shoots him a hateful glare. “I thought we agreed to respect my privacy, dude,” he says.

“Did you go see Derek?” Scott asks, ignoring him, and all the silverware at their table clatters against plates as everyone inhales sharply, going silent.

Stiles hates werewolf friends.

Jackson leans over and sniffs Stiles’ neck. “You do smell kind of like Derek,” he agrees.

Lydia inhales sharply. “What are you talking about?” she snaps, “You’re being ridiculous, Stiles isn’t that weak. He did not go to see Derek. You did not go see Derek,” she declares, pointing a red fingernail at Stiles dangerously.

“I didn’t go see Derek!” Stiles shout and the whole cafeteria goes silent. Erica, Boyd, and Isaac look up from their table across the room, and Isaac looks like he’s halfway up out of his seat, about to run over to Stiles. Erica looks curious and a little amused and maybe a little jealous, and Boyd just looks like Boyd. Calm.

Stiles blows out a sigh. Quietly, he says, “I ran into him at the Minit Mart last night. Literally ran into him, okay? That is all there is to this story, I promise you.”

“Oh, honey,” Lydia says, and pats the top of Stiles head like he’s a fucking puppy or something.

==

“Please, please, please, please,” Stiles sobs, body-racking, trembling sobs, and Scott shivers, reaching out and wrapping his arms around Stiles. Distantly in the back of Stiles’ mind, something screams you are acting pathetic, and Stiles thinks, maybe it’s true, but he doesn’t have him in it to care. “Please,” he sobs again, and Scott rubs a soothing circle on his back.

“I’m sorry,” Scott murmurs against Stiles’ ear. “I’m sorry, Stiles.”

Allison bursts through the door then, and she stoops down, joining the hug. “It’s not fair,” Stiles sobs, “I t-told him I l-loved him, I didn’t mean to drive him away, oh, my God,” Stiles inhales deep, and Allison bites on her bottom lip, tucking her head into Stiles’ neck, nodding.

“I know,” she whispers, “I know, Stiles, I know. Oh, Stiles,” she whispers, “Stiles, Stiles, Stiles,” and she and Scott keep hugging him through his tears.

==

Stiles is halfway home when his jeep bombs out for some odd reason (except not really odd because it’s old, probably on its last leg, and just holding on by a thread), and he has to pull over and pop the hood to check out the problem. He’s studying the contents of whatever-it-is-under-the-hood, sort of hoping the problem will just start smoking or steaming or even catch on fire, so he knows what it is, when a car pulls up.

“Hey there,” the guy says, smiling, “need some help?”

“Um,” Stiles says, because he’s not supposed to take help from strangers. He wasn’t supposed to before the whole werewolves-exist-I-have-the-potential-to-be-kidnapped-slash-killed-anyday ordeal, but now he really isn’t, per Scott, Lydia, Jackson, Allison, Isaac, and even still, Derek’s orders ringing in the back of his head. “No, thanks. I got AAA,” he says, digging in his pocket for his phone and waving it around. When he looks up, the guy is already out of his car, coming towards Stiles.

“AAA takes a while, though,” he says, and shit, Stiles doesn’t like the look on his face.

“Well – I already called them.”

“At least let me take a look,” he says insistently, and Stiles breathes deep, trying to keep his calm.

“No – really – I’m good, thank y-” But that’s all Stiles gets out, because then the world is black, and all Stiles can think is, he doesn’t even have a pack to realize he’s gone.

==

Before Stiles tells Derek he loves him, before it all goes to shit again, it’s not actually that bad. It’s actually really good. Stiles and Derek balance each other out. Stiles can influence Derek to make better, easier decisions with the pack, like instead of working them to the bone every single time they have a pack meeting, from the time they get there until the time they leave, maybe stop and have a break, where they all gather around the dinner table and eat something, talk about their day. Like, instead of being angry all the time, smile just a little when Stiles starts giggling as Derek kisses that little divot near Stiles’ hipbone, and the corners of his eyes crinkle in happiness, and his face lights up. And Derek calms Stiles, gets him to actually sit and study without wanting to get up and race around the house a few times. He makes him talk slower, easier. Think things through a little more. They balance each other out, and in reward, it balances the pack out, too.

Things are really, really good. Stiles teaches Derek how to cook one night. He makes his mom’s lasagna, and Derek stands behind him, hands on Stiles’ hips, watching him, kissing and licking and nipping at his neck occasionally, murmuring his assent every time Stiles says, “Derek are you even listening?” with laughter in his voice and lust in his eyes.

They get the lasagna in the oven, and Derek pins Stiles against the counter, lifts his shirt and starts kissing along his chest. “You look good,” Derek breathes against Stiles’ hip, eventually, “Look good, in the kitchen, look good taking care of the pack, look good here,” and Stiles’ heart leaps in excitement.

And that’s when he knows.

That’s when he knows that what he’s feeling isn’t just pure happiness and excitement, it is love for Derek. Unconditional love for Derek that he doesn’t know how to let go of.

But he is fucking terrified of admitting.

==

He’s got both arms tied up, and when he comes to, he realizes his face is pretty banged up. “Shit,” he groans, blinking harshly, trying to adjust to the darkness. The only thing he can hope for is that eventually one of his friends notices he’s missing and looks into it. Notices his jeep sitting on the side of the road - if it’s still sitting on the side of the road.

“Fuck,” he says again.

It’s a waiting game now. He doesn’t know how long he’s been out, or how long he’ll have to wait for whoever kidnapped him to come in and explain just what, exactly, he wants from Stiles. Stiles figures it won’t be long, but who knows?

He rolls his neck back and forth, and then settles on reviewing all his Physics equations so at least he’s prepared for his test. He figures he waits about twenty minutes when the door opens. “Mr. Stilinski,” the man says.

“Yo,” Stiles croaks. “These are some nice arrangements, I gotta say,” he tugs on his chains, glaring at the man. The man’s lips curl into a wicked grin.

“They are… not for your benefit,” he admits, “more for the person I’m waiting for.”

“Derek,” Stiles guesses after a moment. The man nods. “He’s not going to come for me,” Stiles tells him. “We have nothing to do with one another anymore. This is a lost cause. You’d have had better luck waiting for someone else, okay? So just… you should let me go. I mean, my dad is the Sheriff. He’s going to be looking for me.”

“I saw the two of you last night,” the man says, cocking his head to the side and crossing his arms, “He’ll come looking for you.”

“What?” Stiles blinks. “What do you mean, saw us last night?”

“At the store. The man nearly had a panic attack after running into you; it pained him so much to see you. And you, in your jeep – the same!” he laughs. “Don’t lie to me,” he says, and then he walks back out. Stiles thumps his head against the wall and groans.

He doesn’t know what to do now, so he just sits there, and focuses on not feeling the spreading numbness in his arms from being chained up. “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he hisses.

==

“You and Derek are really, really good together,” Lydia says one day, when they’re sitting on Derek’s porch, drinking iced tea and watching the rest of the pack chase one another around.

“Are we?” Stiles acts surprised, but he feels something like pride flutter in his stomach.

Lydia just looks at him like she knows what he’s feeling. “You make good parents,” she teases, and Stiles rolls his eyes, “You… you’re good for each other. You even his temper out, he calms you down. You’ve made the pack better than I ever thought it could be.”

“Yeah well,” Stiles grimaces, “I did think you and Erica were going to kill one another.” Lydia gives him a wicked grin.

“It’s still a possibility,” she tells him, and he sighs. “But really,” she says, “Derek – he cares about you. He’s never going to let anything bad happen to you, Stiles.”

==

Stiles is fading in and out of consciousness when he hears it: the low, threatening growl. Then a crash and someone bursting through the door. Stiles lifts his head as a light flickers on overhead, and he blinks at the brightness. Lydia and Scott are standing over the man who kidnapped him, and Derek is staring down at him. “Oh,” he says faintly, “oh, I could really use a drink. And my arms –” Derek growls, that same threatening growl, his eyes still red, and he scrambles to unlock the chains. Stiles lets his numb arms fall to his sides as Derek lifts him up, sniffing him.

“Stiles,” he says, and Stiles shivers.

“’m okay,” Stiles mumbles, “Just – oh,” he sighs, “oh,” he says again, as Lydia and Scott race over to him.

“Stiles,” Lydia says, and reaches out and tries to take him out of Derek’s arm. Derek growls. Lydia growls back and Scott flinches a little.

“Lydia,” Scott says, “Maybe –”

“No,” Lydia says evenly, “He does not get to do this,” and she reaches over and wraps her arms around Stiles and pulls him out of Derek’s arms, with Derek still growling, and Lydia growling back. Stiles whimpers.

“Lydia, give him back to me,” Derek says, barely above a whisper.

“You screwed this up,” Lydia shrieks, “You, Derek! Don’t fucking tell me to give him back to you, because it’s not happening!”

Lydia,” Scott swallows, and Stiles turns into Lydia a little more.

“Thirsty,” he whines. Derek growls.

“He needs taken care of,” Derek says.

“I can do that better than you, obviously, and he’s not even my mate,” Lydia snaps. Derek recoils, then, and goes silent. Scott stops breathing for a moment. He places a hand on Stiles’ arm.

“Hey, dude,” he says, “I’m glad we found you.”

“’ere’s Allison?” Stiles slurs, “Jackson?”

“Outside, waiting,” Scott soothes, and smiles down at him. “Go ahead and go to sleep, Stiles. We’ll get you home, alright? And some water, I promise.” He’s being moved forward in Lydia’s arms, carried out of the dark, musty room he was held in. Distantly, he’s aware of someone opening his mouth and pouring water in, and he swallows greedily, before he slips off into sleep.

When he comes to, he’s in Scott’s bed. “Holy shit,” he gasps, sitting straight up.

Scott is sitting in his desk chair, chin resting in his hand, elbows on his knees, watching him. He smiles sadly. “You had us worried, man,” he says, just as the door bursts open, and Lydia comes through carrying a bowl of soup and water. Jackson and Allison follow. A few seconds later, Isaac comes barreling through the door looking terrified, then relieved when he sees Stiles’ face.

He jumps onto Scott’s bed and throws his arms around Stiles, carefully, sniffing him all the while. Stiles grimaces a little, “Isaac, I’m okay,” he says, trying to stay calm, “I swear.”

“You got kidnapped,” Isaac says in a mortified tone, “You’re not okay.

Stiles would shrug, but it hurts his arms too much.

“My dad –”

“Taken care of,” Scott says automatically, easily, because it’s always Scott’s job to take cover for him, and it’s something he’s always done without hesitation.

“Drink, eat,” Lydia says, shoving the items under his nose, and Stiles knows better than to disobey. He picks up the spoon and begins eating. “When you’re finished, you’re going straight back to sleep,” Lydia instructs. She doesn’t usually do the whole ‘caring-mom’ thing – it’s usually Stiles’ job, really, but Stiles must have really scared the shit out of her.

“You did,” Lydia says, eyeing him, and Stiles realizes he said this out loud.

“That’s not the only thing, though,” Scott grumbles, and Stiles is confused, but he’s too tired to bother asking what Scott is talking about. So he eats his soup and drinks his water and takes some Advil, and then lets Lydia throw the covers back over him, before slipping back into sleep, with Isaac still wrapped around him.

==

Sometime in the middle of the night, he wakes up, and someone is standing over him. He knows who it is, and he turns in his half-awake mind towards him, murmurs, “Derek,” and tries to reach an arm out towards him, but he can’t. So he falls back asleep again to Derek brushing his hand across Stiles’ forehead.

==

“Was Derek here last night?” Stiles yawns, sitting at the kitchen table. Everyone stops what they were doing and stares at him. Isaac does his little flail and looks like he wants to run. Stiles knows that Isaac still hasn’t decided who to be most loyal to – Derek, who took him in, or Stiles, who taught him how to be a person. So he tries to divide his time, but he hates confrontation.

Jackson sniffs. “Are we stupid, Stilinski? Like we’d let Derek within fifty feet of you,” he says haughtily, arms crossed, as Scott sets a burnt piece of toast down in front of Stiles. Scott looks guilty for a moment, but he shrugs.

“He wasn’t here,” he says firmly. “You probably just had some freaky dreams.”

“That happens after getting kidnapped, they say,” Allison volunteers, “PTSD.”

“I don’t have PTSD,” Stiles glares, “I just thought someone was standing over me, checking on me,” he trails off.

“That was me,” Scott says quickly. Stiles arches a brow. Scott shrugs and keeps setting toast down in front of everyone.

“You reached out and brushed your hand across my forehead?” Stiles asks him.

Scott falters a little before he nods sharply, swallowing, “That was me!” he says brightly, sitting down in a kitchen chair, “Definitely me. I wanted to make sure you didn’t have a fever.”

Stiles studies him. “I got kidnapped. I didn’t get the flu.”

“Well – anything can happen,” Allison says easily, and Stiles and the rest of the pack are watching them both carefully, because they know they’re hiding them. Suddenly Lydia growls.

“Did you let him in?” she demands, and Scott looks up.

“No,” he says.

“Don’t lie to me, Scott,” Lydia says, jumping out of her chair and standing over Scott, slamming her palms down on the kitchen table so all the plates jump. Isaac hides behind Stiles. “Did you let Derek in that room last night when Stiles was sleeping, when we were all out running?”

“Lydia –” Scott starts, but it’s too late. Lydia is in a growling rage, pissed off and shaking, halfway to wolfing out.

“I told you,” she shrieks, and Allison looks pained, “I told you not to let him near Stiles. It was his fault Stiles was kidnapped in the first place and we didn’t even know if we’d find him. Two days we searched for him! Two days you had to cover for Stiles with his dad, and don’t tell me the Sheriff wasn’t starting to get a little suspicious, Scott! And it was Derek’s fault!

Stiles studies the kitchen table like it’s suddenly the most interesting thing in the world while Lydia rants. When she calms down a little, he says, “It would have happened no matter what though, right?”

Lydia stops waving her hands around, and turns to face him, growling, “What?”

“Whether I was with him,” Stiles swallows, “I mean, together – like a relationship – or not, it would have happened; I would have gotten kidnapped. That hunter made it clear.”

Lydia shakes her head. “You have no idea Stiles. No fucking idea,” she snarls, and she grabs her bag and storms out of Scott’s kitchen.

==

Stiles slips back into his house quietly, like he was never gone for two and a half days, and walks into the kitchen. His dad is sitting at the table doing paperwork and drinking a mug of coffee. When he looks up, he arches a brow expectantly. “Right,” the Sheriff says, “I get that you’re eighteen and a cool guy now, but two days, Stiles, really?”

“Um,” Stiles says, and sinks down into the kitchen chair, “It’s been a long two days, Dad.”

His dad studies him for a moment, before looking back down at his paperwork. “Scott said it was an important physics test. I sure hope you do well on it, son.” Stiles chews on his bottom lip. Stiles hopes he does well on it too, he thinks, and sighs. “You had a visitor,” his dad continues, still filling something out on the paperwork, and Stiles snaps his head up.

“I did – who?”

The Sheriff looks up then, amused, “Derek,” he says, “It was Derek. He almost looked anxious. Is something going on, Stiles?”

“No,” Stiles says quickly, “Nothing is going on. I’m going to go upstairs and… study some more for my Physics test.”

He’s expecting it, when he gets to his room. Much like so many other things in his life, he is expecting it, so he’s not frightened. He doesn’t jump, or shriek, and his breath doesn’t catch. He simply closes the door behind him, sets his bag on the floor, and walks towards his bed, sitting down, observing Derek the entire time. They stay quiet for a long while, and Derek studies him, like he’s trying to make sure Stiles is, for the most part, unharmed. Finally Stiles says, “Lydia said something.”

“Lydia says a lot of things,” Derek retorts in a hushed tone.

“But she said something that really stood out this time,” Stiles says, offering an almost uneasy smile. He’s still not sure how to be around Derek. In reality, it’s only really his second time being around Derek after their breakup. He’s uncomfortable. He’s supposed to be uncomfortable.

“Don’t believe anything Lydia says,” Derek says sternly, and stands up, walking over. He leans down, close to Stiles’ face, and for that split-second, that moment, Stiles flashes back to last year, back to happier moments, when Derek leaning down meant that Stiles got lips pressed against lips and arms wrapped around waists and tongues tangled with tongues. Derek inhales once, then pulls away.
“I just needed to make sure you were okay,” Derek says, and walks towards the window.

Stiles swallows tightly. “I’m not part of your pack anymore, Derek,” he says lowly, and Derek turns back around, eyes flashing crimson.

“You’re going to keep telling yourself that, and you’re going to keep being wrong,” Derek says, “Because no matter what happens with us, you’re always going to be part of this pack.” And then he disappears out the window, and Stiles falls against his mattress, breathing angrily.

He tells himself he was expecting Derek to say that, too, because Derek came for him and saved him, and tried to bring him back to his place to make him better, but really, he wasn’t expecting it. He thought when they were done; his place in the pack was done, too. And he accepted it.

Now, things are all screwy, and Stiles doesn’t know what to do. So he reaches for the phone and calls Lydia.

==

Lydia is not happy with him. “I’m sorry,” Stiles mumbles for what is possibly the hundredth time. She glares at him, something evil and frightening, a glare that would put a lesser man down, and Stiles sighs. “I’m sorry Lydia. What am I supposed to say?” he spreads his arms wide.

“You’re supposed to say, ‘I’m an idiot, Lydia, and I promise to try and be smarter in the future.’”

“I –” He cuts himself off and glares at her.

“You should have told him to leave right away, Stiles,” she says, lifting her chin and crossing her arms.

“I don’t get what the big deal is.”

“He hurt you!” she says, stabbing a finger in his chest, and he winces, “Stiles, are you honestly telling me that you’re all okay about this? That you can look at Derek and feel nothing? Or that you go a whole day without thinking about Derek, because I know that’s not the case, and you do, too,” she says defiantly, and Stiles stays quiet. She looks triumphant. “Stiles, you are one of my very best friends. You matter to me, more than Alpha Derek ever will,” she says, and leans in, resting her head on his shoulder. “I know the lines are divided; I know you can see it too. Erica and Boyd and probably even Isaac chose Derek. But you know where we stand. With you. You matter to us, and Derek chose this – you didn’t. All you did was admit your feelings, and all the sudden, he threw you out into the cold.”

Stiles feels a little sick.

“Stiles,” she says, and looks up at him, “Don’t let him back in,” her eyes glow amber, defiant and angry, and Stiles swallows and nods.

“Right,” he says, “Not letting Derek back in.”

He doesn’t tell her what Derek said about being part of the pack still. Or the sniffing.

==

Stiles thinks maybe he’s going to boycott the Minit Mart just on the basis that it’s a terrible, terrible place to run into an ex. It really is. “Jesus fuck,” he mumbles, picking his things up, and standing back up, brushing hair from his face.

“I like your hair grown out a little,” Derek says, and Stiles blinks.

“I have to go,” Stiles says hurriedly, remembering Lydia’s amber eyes glaring at him, warning him, and he rushes up to the cashier, shoving his Hershey’s chocolate bar and M&M’s on the counter. Derek follows him, nearly pressed right up against him, and Stiles breathes deep.

“3.49,” the cashier tells him, and Stiles digs around his pockets for the change, trying to keep calm.

“Derek,” he chokes, when he turns around to find Derek right there.

“I know what Lydia says,” Derek murmurs.

“Lydia, Lydia who? Lydia says what?” Stiles asks, high pitched and trembling, still right up against Derek. The cashier is watching them almost nervously, his hand hovering over the phone like he’s not sure if he should call the police. Which, he should, Stiles thinks. He knows Stiles is the Sheriff’s son and Stiles is in danger. Mostly of caving in, though.

“She thinks it’s my fault,” Derek growls, and Stiles winces.

“I have… no clue what you’re talking about. I do have to go though,” he says, and tries to duck under Derek. Derek grips his arm.

“Stiles,” he says. Just one word. Just his name. And Stiles wants to, wants so much to turn around and say, yes. What? Whatever you want, Derek, I’ll give it to you. I loved you once; I never stopped loving you. I’ll be a part of your pack and I’ll love you and I’ll take care of you, and I’ll let you take care of me.

But he gets what Lydia is saying.

“No, Derek,” he says, wrenching himself free.

Stiles needs to hear it first this time.

==

“I am over it!” Stiles announces drunkenly to the room, and Allison looks at him sympathetically. It’s a hot August night, Stiles’ stomach is sloshy with whiskey, and he is adamant. “No, I am,” he says, and Allison pats his shoulder as he lies down on the hard ground and stares up at the stars.

“I do not need Derek fucking Hale to love. I was alright before him, and I’ll be alright after him.”

“You loved me before Derek,” Lydia preens.

“I thought I loved you,” Stiles declares, pointing the bottle of whiskey in her direction, and Lydia just rolls her eyes. “Then I met Derek and I was clearly proven wrong. And then,” Stiles sighs, “Derek pretty much just ripped my heart out of my ribcage.”

“You talk a lot even when you’re drunk,” Jackson grumbles, taking the bottle from him and taking a swig.

“It’s a problem,” Stiles agrees, “I pretty much never shut up – Derek says I sleep talk – oh, my God, I need to stop talking about him, right? That’s like the number one thing I should do, right?” he studies the stars in the sky and thinks about it.

“I think,” Scott says quietly, “You need to do whatever you have to, to make sure you come out of this okay, Stiles.”

It’s possibly the wisest thing Scott has ever said in the seventeen years Stiles has known his best friend, and it’s the one thing that will stand out in Stiles’ mind when he wakes up in the morning.

==

“You’re quiet again,” Allison frowns in class.

“God, you guys are way too observing lately,” Stiles sighs dramatically, dropping his head against his desk and popping one eye open to glare halfheartedly at her. She just waits for him to keep talking. “Allison, I cannot talk about this here,” he tells her.

She nods, “Your house then. After school. Just you and I,” she tells him, and Stiles sighs so loudly that his AP English teacher glares at him.

After school Allison follows him to his house and walks in, going to the kitchen and putting tea on for the both of them. “Start talking,” she tells him, arms crossed.

Stiles fidgets for a minute, not sure how to. Finally he says, “I think he wants me back, Allison.”

Allison blinks. “Derek?” she asks, but she doesn’t sound surprised, exactly.

Stiles nods. “He was in the Minit Mart last night –”

“You need to stop going there –”

“- and he just kept saying these things, and God, Allison, I just. I had this total urge to give in and forgive him. I could feel the words in the back of my throat, right there, wanting to spill out. But I couldn’t make myself do it.”

“He really hurt you,” Allison says.

“Well, yeah. But it’s not just that, either,” Stiles says quietly, thoughtfully. Allison cocks her head to the side.

“What is it then, Stiles?”

“I – I want him to say it,” he says, rushed, “I want him to say it to me, and I don’t want to be the only one, and I don’t want to feel stupid for loving him, or for having said it in the first place,” there’s a blush on Stiles’ cheeks when he’s finished talking, but Allison looks like she understands.

“Do you think you’ll ever get Derek Hale to admit to loving you, Stiles?” she asks softly, sympathetically.

Stiles raises his eyes to meet hers, determined. “If he wants me back, he will.”

==

“Oh fucking hell and all that is holy,” Stiles curses, slamming the bedroom door behind him. Isaac gives him puppy eyes.

“Sorry,” he says from Stiles’ bed, curled around Stiles’ pillows. “I was tired and I couldn’t find Derek anywhere.”

“It’s okay,” Stiles says, clutching at his chest, breathing deeply, “It is – it is okay, Isaac, I was just not expecting you, is all. I promise you, it’s okay.” Isaac jumps off the bed and comes over, wrapping his arms around Stiles, sniffing him.

“You don’t smell okay. You smell stressed.”

“You cannot smell my stress,” Stiles argues adamantly.

“Can too,” Isaac says almost petulantly, and Stiles rolls his eyes.

“Go to sleep, wolf-boy. I have homework.”

“And then you’ll take a nap?” Isaac asks hopefully, “I haven’t seen you in forever. You can tell me what you’re stressed about, you know.”

“I am stressed,” Stiles says pleasantly, “About your alpha, who has seemed to take up stalking me in his free time yet again.” Isaac wrinkles his nose.

“Derek? He said he’s been working on something.”

“If by something he means stalking a perfectly innocent human being that he cut all ties with four months ago, then yes, that would be what he’s been working on,” Stiles replies, sitting at his desk and turning on his laptop. Isaac sniffs.

“What was that?” Stiles whirls his desk chair around, pointing at him, “You, Lydia, Scott, Jackson, you all do that – that sniff when I say I’m just a plain old human when it comes to Derek - every single time. What was that, Isaac?” Isaac blushes.

“It’s nothing,” he says.

“It’s something,” Stiles narrows his eyes. “What is it?”

“It’s just –” Isaac cuts himself off. “Stiles,” he whines, “I really just wanted to sleep.”

“Holy shit,” Stiles says a second later, realization dawning on him, “Lydia was right.” Isaac looks at him.

“Right about what?” he asks nervously. Stiles slams the laptop shut and comes over to the bed, kicking his shoes off.

“You just don’t worry,” he tells Isaac, slipping into the bed and letting Isaac lay his head on Stiles’ chest, “It’s nothing you need to worry about.” Isaac snorts.

“You always say that when you’re thinking something that means trouble,” he says, but he’s already half-asleep, and Stiles smiles.

==

“Lydia,” Stiles hisses, pulling her into an empty hallway at school the next day. Lydia sighs.

“Stiles, what is your major malfunction?” She tosses her hair and studies her nails while she waits for him to start talking.

“Were you telling the truth? That night I got kidnapped?”

She arches a brow and waits, expectantly. “You said,” Stiles swallows, “You said you could take better care of me, and you’re not even my mate.”

“You’re not my mate, Stiles,” Lydia says quickly, “You’ll never be my mate, regardless of how many time you will dream or ask or –”

“That’s not what I meant,” Stiles interrupts, “You implied that –” Stiles hesitates, “Were you implying that I’m… Derek’s – mate?”

Lydia is quite for a long moment. “Stiles, you’re not being serious right now,” she finally says, high pitched and incredulous, “You’re going to forgive him on the basis that you’re his mate, so, what? He was delirious when he broke it off with you? He was making rash decisions?”

“I don’t know!” Stiles shouts, “I don’t know what I’m going to do! I never even said I’d forgive him, Lydia, I just wanted to – I just needed to know.

She tosses her hair again. “He doesn’t deserve you,” she hisses, “And you know what, I wish you were my mate, Stiles, because I’d fucking well make sure you were better protected. I’d fucking well make sure I never let you go. What Derek did was hide his feelings. He got scared, so he tossed you to the side. You’re stupid, Stiles, to forgive him, you’re stupid. Because he’ll do it again the second he gets scared.”

And she wrenches her arm free of his grip and stalks off.

Stiles has heartburn from all of this talk.

==

He does something he hasn’t done in almost five months now. He takes the road that leads to the turnoff to the Hale house, and then he takes that turnoff. Soon enough, he’s staring up at the reconstruction of the house, staring at Derek up on the roof, pounding a nail into it, in a white wife beater and old jeans, a tool belt wrapped around his waist. He knows Derek knows he’s here, knows Derek heard his jeep pull up, but he just sits in his jeep for a moment to collect himself, and Derek just keeps pounding nail after nail into the roof.

Finally, Stiles opens the car door and hops out. “It’s looking great,” he says, observing the house. In the months since he’s been here, Derek’s gotten siding, a pale cream color, put on the house. The inside is already finished, Stiles knows; all that’s left is the outside. Derek sets the tools down and hops down onto the ground, walking towards Stiles.

“Thanks,” he says, when he’s nearer.

“I like the siding,” Stiles nods towards the house.

Derek pauses, glancing back at the house like he needs to reassure himself that the siding is still there. “You picked the color,” he finally says, and yeah, Stiles remembers that. There had been all these sample colors lying out on the table, and Stiles had laughed at the wrinkle between Derek’s eyes while he studied them, before pointing at the cream one. Remembers how he’d said, it’s simple and handsome, just like you, and Derek had just shaken his head.

“Well,” Stiles says, and pauses, “I was right?” he tries, and Derek just looks at him.

“What did you want, Stiles?” he asks him, and Stiles leans against his car, shoving his hands in his pockets.

“Lydia isn’t a liar, is she?” he asks him, looking at Derek seriously, “She wasn’t lying about the mate thing. She was telling the truth. Lydia never lies. Lydia’s brutally honest, actually.”

“Stiles –”

“What I don’t understand,” Stiles says loudly, drowning out Derek’s attempt to talk, “is why, if that is the case, you pushed me away. I mean, I told you I loved you, Derek. And you shoved those words back in my face and just walked away. You told me not to come back. What is that, Derek?” Stiles demands, “What is that?”

Derek doesn’t say anything, blinking at Stiles. “No, you do not get to be the stoic, angry, silent guy,” Stiles says, pointing at him accusatorily. Derek’s eyes flash and he actually looks guilty.

“I – Stiles,” he says and he sounds pained. “I can’t.”

“You can’t what?” Stiles asks.

“I can’t ask that of you!” he shouts, and Stiles steps forward a little.

“Ask what of me?” he asks, softer now.

“I can’t ask you to be mine forever, when I’m the worst person in the world to be stuck with forever. I can’t ask you to love me, I can’t ask you to be with me. Because I will – I will fuck it up,” Derek chokes, and Stiles is close now, pressed against him, staring up at him.

“You don’t think I won’t fuck some things up?” he asks him, “You don’t think I haven’t fucked some things up already? Derek, that doesn’t mean you get to push me away or toss me off to the side. At least if I’m right there next to you, you can protect me. And I can know that you’re safe.”

Derek blinks rapidly, and if Stiles didn’t know better, he’d think he was trying to block tears.

“It’s not that I don’t – that I didn’t –” Derek mumbles, but he still can’t say it, and Stiles heart shatters a little.

He backs away. Derek’s arms snaps out and wraps around his wrist, “Don’t,” he whispers, “I’m – I do,” he says firmly, “I do.”

“You do what?” Stiles demands, looking up and meeting his eyes, determined. Derek closes his eyes and breathes deeply.

Slowly, he exhales, and says, “I love you, Stiles,” in a whisper, and Stiles heart –

Stiles heart flutters rapidly, and he’s positive Derek can hear it, that excited beat, as he presses closer against Derek. “Do you?” he murmurs against Derek’s lips, “Do you, Derek, because I can’t – I can’t fucking do this again? Not again.”

“I thought I was doing what was best,” Derek says, leaning down a licking a strip along Stiles’ throat, inhaling.

“You were wrong,” Stiles says, jabbing him in the ribs with a finger, “You’re often wrong, it seems.”

The puff of laughter against his throat tells Stiles what he already knows: Derek is his. Derek only laughs when they are together.

==

“- And I told him there was no way he could get away with that, because hello? Has he seen me run, I mean, you know?” Stiles talks, gesturing wildly with his hands as he points for Lydia to hand him the spices. Lydia rolls her eyes.

Derek comes into the kitchen and wraps his arms around Stiles’ waist as Stiles keeps talking. “Like, it’s like no one even knows me, you know?” Stiles says, and Derek huffs against his neck, kissing it once.

Lydia sighs.

“I kind of miss you being quieter,” she says, but there’s laughter in her eyes.

The truth is that no one misses that. The truth is that everyone is happy, here, in Derek’s newly remodeled home, with Stiles cooking all of his mother’s old recipes for them, talking a mile a minute about his day, while Derek hovers behind him, watching, always watching. The truth is the Isaac is less anxious and more sure of himself with the two of them together and not sad or lonely, when he doesn’t have to choose which side to take.

The truth is they are pack, family.

The truth is, Stiles loves Derek.

And Derek – Derek loves Stiles.

==

Stiles was right.