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It's been a month since Stiles put him back together after the rogue hunter came through town. Three weeks since Stiles picked up a reference to a 'shady guy' his Dad was keeping an eye on. Two weeks since Chris Argent helped Derek run the rogue hunter off, cementing their tentative alliance. One week since Stiles texted Derek to tell him he had an 'open door – or window I guess – policy'.

This is the first time Derek's taken the hint. Peter's been digging into him with soft sarcasm and disappointed eyerolls and there's only so much working out Derek can do to distract him from the words. It's Boyd and Erica, still, and how Derek can feel them out there, can smell them whenever he crosses the Alpha pack's trails, and how much a failure Peter thinks he is for not being able to - fuck, Derek doesn't even know what Peter expects him to do.

He's not strong enough for this. Not strong enough to kill Peter or even cow him enough to get him to shut up for more than five minutes. Not strong enough to convince Scott that he needs the pack or that Derek needs him. Not strong enough to confront the Alphas as they roam all over his territory.

Stiles finds him on the floor; his back to the wall under the window, his legs drawn up and his head in his hands. He can feel Stiles' hesitation without even looking up – it's because Stiles doesn't know what to do when Derek betrays his vulnerabilities. Derek knows this for a fact because he overheard Stiles telling Lydia about a 'friend' he was helping. Stiles doesn't know that he's a vulnerability for Derek. He thinks maybe Stiles would find that funny.

“Well,” Stiles says and Derek can hear Stiles drop his bag on the floor, the plastic creak of his computer chair as he sits down. “At least my Dad's not here.”

Derek snorts because that's all that deserves. The Sheriff hasn't been able to take on many new deputies yet and Derek knows that means long hours for the survivors of Matt's massacre. It's bad for Stiles, Derek guesses, because he doesn't get to see his Dad a lot - but it's good for Derek because when hell breaks loose because the Alpha pack has finally made a move he won't have to worry about too many humans being caught in the crossfire.

“You want to talk about it?” Stiles asks, his fingers tapping a distracted beat on his desk. Derek shakes his head without looking up.

“Oookay,” Stiles says quietly. “I'll play some WoW, because I've got business to do, and then later maybe we'll have something to eat and you can decide what you want to tell me.”

It's the kind of thing Stiles used to say with a sense of rolling humour under the words – he doesn't do that, now, and Derek wants to know why. He has a feeling it has to do with the night they slept together. Stiles seems to not bother with his mask around Derek so much since, in the few times he's seen him. It makes something wanting curl up inside him but as far as Derek can tell Stiles isn't having the same feelings, is still stuck on Lydia to some extent, so he stamps down on it ruthlessly.

Stiles starts up his game, muttering to himself as he does whatever it is you do in those games, and it's enough, really, just being in his presence. They've gone past the point where they yell at each other, frustrate each other, and Stiles' rambling chatter is actually pretty relaxing. Derek doesn't have to pay attention because Stiles is talking more for his own benefit than anyone else so Derek tunes out the content and pays attention to the tone.

Stiles' voice goes from gleeful to murderous with whiplash speed, jerking in his seat as he fights with the game. He coaxes and whispers and occasionally shouts, after which Derek can feel guilty eyes passing over him. Eventually Stiles is drawn so much into the game that he doesn't notice when Derek lifts his head and rests it against the wall behind him, folding his arms over his knees. He watches Stiles' face as it concentrates on the computer; he bites his lips and pokes his tongue out the corners of his mouth, he leans forwards as if that can help him see further into the game world and jerks back when something unexpected happens.

Derek hasn't seen Stiles for a couple of weeks and he's surprised by how much Stiles has changed. The bruises are completely faded and his skin looks healthier – he'd started looking sallow and lost towards the end of the kanima situation, something Derek blamed himself for later, for not realising Stiles needed care too. Stiles looks more like the kid Derek had tried to scare away from his property six months ago but still different, like he's growing into himself.

Stiles twitches and flails and Derek had no idea that gaming could be so active – they'd had some kind of Nintendo when he was a kid but his memories mostly involve getting his ass kicked by Laura at Mario Kart. He blinks when the memory doesn't bring him pain, just sadness. He shifts and presses a hand against his heart, feeling the beat staying steady. It's not – it hasn't been long enough – he should still feel -

His chest tightens and he remembers this sensation, remembers the constant feeling of being unable to catch his breath, remembers the months of nightmares after the fire. Remembers waking up to Laura's arms around him, rocking him, soothing and he can't – he can't -

He's. Not strong enough.

Stiles is suddenly in front of him, a whirlwind of teenage hormones and bodyspray and sweat and Stiles, hands pulling Derek's arms away so he can see Derek's face. Derek doesn't know what Stiles sees but Stiles makes a soft noise and pushes further into his personal space, placing a hand over Derek's where he's digging his fingers into his chest.

“Derek, Derek,” Stiles says and he sounds so far away even though Derek can feel Stiles' breath on his face. “You've got to breathe. Breathe for me. With me.”

It's hard, harder than it should be, but Derek tries. He listens to Stiles' breathing, which is deeper and slower as he tries to set an example, and tries to match it, tries to get his chest to expand. Stiles keeps one hand twisted around Derek's and puts the other on his shoulder, rubbing back and forth gently. It's such a soft familiar touch that something in Derek breaks. He rocks forwards onto his knees faster than he knows Stiles can process and wraps his arms around him, burying his face in Stiles' neck.

Air rushes out of Stiles' lungs in a great gust of breath and Derek can smell his whole day; his breakfast, his Dad, Scott and Isaac, lingering hints of Allison (which is interesting), his lunch. It's comforting but not quite as much as Stiles' arms going easily around him, hands sliding up and down his back.

“You're okay,” Stiles says, a quiver of something strange in his voice. “You're okay.”

It's five minutes, maybe ten, before Derek feels safe enough to pull back. He feels embarrassed until he sees the look of deep understanding on Stiles' face. He's heard Stiles tell Scott about his panic attacks, in the days when he was following (stalking) them. He ducks his head anyway, feeling a flush creeping up the back of his neck.

“Wow,” Stiles says, hands curved over Derek's shoulder blades. “That was unexpected.”

He doesn't say anything else, just lets Derek kneel there under his touch for as long as Derek needs it and Derek is grateful in ways he's forgotten how to express. Finally he gets to his feet and moves to the second chair Stiles keeps around for guests. Stiles brushes his hands against his thighs and stands up, reseating himself in front of his desk but swinging his chair around to face Derek. Derek registers briefly that Stiles probably had to interrupt his game. He feels bad about that.

“You want to talk now?” Stiles asks, swivelling slowly side to side. Derek watches Stiles' feet as they scrape back and forth over the carpet, roughing it up and smoothing it down again with each pass.

“I can't get to Erica and Boyd,” Derek says, lifting his eyes to Stiles'. Stiles swallows, flickering emotions scattering through his eyes.

“Mr. Argent told you he let them go, right?” Stiles asks, tugging at the hem of his shirt.

“Yeah,” Derek says, nodding. He doesn't want to tell Stiles about the Alpha pack, and knows not doing so is going to stretch the trust growing between them, so he tries to edge around it. “I can feel them out there, I know they're nearby, but I can't get to them.”

“Is it – something I can help with?” Stiles asks, eyes wandering away to look out the window. There's something close to guilt in his tone and Derek thinks about Gerard taking Stiles, about Chris saying that they'd captured Erica and Boyd, and lets the puzzle pieces fall into place.

“It's not your fault,” he says instead of giving a proper answer. Any answer he gives could put Stiles in more danger than Derek can stand. Stiles getting into danger accidentally is fine, Stiles getting into danger deliberately, and because of Derek, is not.

Stiles freezes in his swivelling, his eyes still staring hard out the window like he can see Erica and Boyd out there. He swallows again and Derek can feel the rush of Stiles' emotions like a weight on his senses.

“You know,” Stiles says, closing his eyes briefly. “My Dad told me I'm a hero. That night he came in here, sat down, and told me I was a hero because I scored some goals in a lacrosse game. I mean, what the hell is heroic about that? You guys were out there fighting Jackson and Gerard and Allison and I was laying in my room feeling sorry for myself because I got beaten up and because Lydia -”

Stiles stops and executes one swivel of the chair, his leg bouncing anxiously when he stops. Derek finds himself watching Stiles' fingers where they're pleating the hem of his shirt over and over again.

“You guys were out there – fighting – and I couldn't even save myself let alone Erica and Boyd,” Stiles finishes, raising his hands to run over his hair.

“You came though,” Derek points out and Stiles' eyes snap to his. “When it mattered, when Lydia needed your help, when we needed your help – you were there. You probably saved us all.”

“Lydia saved us all,” Stiles says with a roll of his shoulders and a contorted facial expression that makes no sense. “I just provided the vehicle and hid behind Scott.”

“You tried to get to her when you thought Jackson was going to hurt her,” Derek says, remembering the desperation in Stiles' voice and the way it'd ripped into a primal part of Derek without permission.

“She didn't need me to, though,” Stiles says, hands falling into his lap, shoulders slumping. “All I ever wanted was for her to need me, maybe once, and the one time she did I shouted at her.”

Derek doesn't ask what Stiles shouted at Lydia about, knows instinctively that it's not something Stiles is going to want to talk about. He stays silent, watching and waiting, because he knows Stiles isn't done.

“I was a real douchebag,” Stiles says at last. “A real Nice Guy – and that's not in the, you know, 'oh he saved that kitten, what a nice guy!' way. I mean in the 'I've been doing all of this for you why won't you like me' way. It was shitty behaviour.”

“She seems to have forgiven you?” Derek says hesitantly, not ready to reveal how much eavesdropping he's been doing on Stiles. “I mean – you smell a little like her.”

“She didn't have to,” Stiles shakes his head. “She probably shouldn't have at all. I was a complete dick.”

“I think,” Derek says slowly, waiting for Stiles to look at him before he continues. “I think maybe helping her save the life of the guy she loves was probably a pretty good apology.”

Stiles stares at him, his mouth hanging slightly open, and Derek tries not to shrink into the chair. He's not good at people, really, on an ongoing basis. He knows how to manipulate people in the short-term but his only long-term experience for years was his sister and she had to put up with him.

“Maybe,” Stiles says after a long moment, lifting one shoulder in a shrug. Somehow Derek knows that signals the end of the conversation. “You want to get that food now? It's probably been a while since you had a good meal.”

Derek wants to protest that, whatever Stiles thinks, he doesn't live off of forest creatures and eats like a civilised person. He doesn't though because it has been a while since he ate anything that couldn't be bought from a gas station kiosk. He's been busy.

He nods and follows Stiles downstairs to the kitchen where Stiles proceeds to put together some kind of pasta dish that smells frustratingly good as it cooks. Stiles talks about learning to cook to stop his Dad from eating food that wasn't good for him and about all the stuff he burnt in the process.

“You wouldn't think you could burn water,” Stiles says as he plates the food up, looking over his shoulder at Derek. “But I found a way!”

He raises a hand in the air, the one with the sauce-covered spoon in, and manages to splatter sauce on his face. Derek sighs and grabs the cloth lying on the table and throws it at Stiles even as Stiles turns to ask for it. Stiles smiles something a lot lower wattage than his usual grin and wipes his face.

“So,” he says when he's seated opposite Derek at the kitchen table, the pasta steaming in front of them. He kicks Derek under the table to drag his attention away from the food. “You want to tell me about Peter? 'Cos I'm guessing that's why you were here in the first place.”

Derek does, around mouthfuls of really actually good food, and feels tension ebb from his shoulders as he talks. Laura used to make him talk things out when he got bad, wouldn't take his silences, and he knows he's been bad at it since she – since she died. Stiles seems okay with his silences, though, and also seems to know exactly when to push. Sometimes Derek forgets that Stiles is carrying grief too – that Stiles knows at least some of what he's feeling – and that because of that Stiles can get under his moods a lot better than anyone else.

Derek feels lighter when they've finished eating, enough that he laughs when Stiles sums Peter up in one word – dickbag – and pulls a face. It reminds him that Stiles was kidnapped by Peter after the Winter Formal, that Peter had seen something in Stiles that Derek had barely been able to see at the time, and it makes him want to rip Peter's face off again.

Which is good. Anger at Peter keeps him in control of the situation – it's only when he lets Peter's words get in at the cracks that he starts being unable to cope. Peter still has a lot of knowledge that Derek needs but he doesn't trust him.

“Stay pissed at him,” Stiles says, reading what Derek isn't saying out loud. “If it helps – just think of all the asshole things he's done. I find it helps me.”

“I won't let him -” Derek stops himself, pretty sure he was about to go too far. Stiles' eyes soften a little as Stiles gets up to collect the plates so Derek figures Stiles probably knows anyway. It makes a little kernel of warmth flicker to life in his chest.

“Thank you for the food,” Derek says, standing and moving towards the door. He knows without asking that it's best if he leaves from the back – Stiles's neighbours are too nosey to risk being seen going out the front of the Sheriff's house. At least until Derek can figure out a way to make the Sheriff believe he's not the kind of trouble he thinks Derek is.

“Meh,” Stiles says, shrugging his shoulder. “I always make too much anyway.”

Derek shifts awkwardly from foot to foot and Stiles hovers. He doesn't really – he hasn't had a friend for a long time, and he thinks Stiles is a friend now, and he doesn't know how friends say goodbye these days. He swears he's not as old as he sounds some days.

Stiles makes the decision for him, stepping across the distance between them and drawing Derek into a hug. Derek lets himself hold on just shy of too tight as Stiles runs one hand up to brush his fingers through the hair at Derek's nape. There's more strength in Stiles' body than Stiles lets anyone see, Derek realises as he feels muscles shift beneath his hands, he wonders what it'll take to get Stiles to stop hiding that.

“Thanks,” Derek says again when Stiles pulls back, dipping his head to sniff briefly at Stiles' neck.

“Okay, okay,” Stiles says, pushing him away. “Enough with the creepy werewolf sniffing – between you and Isaac I'm starting to develop a complex.”

“I'll call you,” Derek says as he puts a hand on the door. Stiles looks at him with surprise and something new Derek can't parse. “I mean – if I need your help with Erica and Boyd. I'll call you.”

It's Derek's way of trying to keep Stiles from interfering and he's wondering how long it'll be before Stiles realises that. He's maybe got three more uses of it, if Stiles doesn't wilfully ignore it. Stiles nods at him and Derek leaves, holding onto the half-smile Stiles gave him.