The jeep dies about five minutes away from Derek's house, which is a good twenty minute walk for Stiles through the slush with delusions of snow. It's the forest at night which isn't ideal, but Stiles knows if something came at him, Derek would probably hear his, not at all girlish thanks Scott, shut your face, screams for help and come running.
What Stiles isn't expecting is for Derek to be the thing that comes at him, barrelling out of the forest like a furry freight train and knocking Stiles on his ass.
"Um, ow," Stiles groans, rolling over. Derek has skidded to a halt a few feet away, bouncing lightly on his toes and doing something that sounds like chuckling but can't be because it's Derek who doesn't do that.
"You need to be more aware-"
"Of my surroundings, yada, yada," Stiles interrupts, making a talky-talky hand in the direction of Derek's voice. He can't see Derek, being flat on his back facing the sky like he is. The slush is seeping through his jeans and it's not pleasant. "I'm not one of your puppies."
"Which is why it's especially important for you," Derek says. His voice remains where it is which means he isn't coming any closer to, you know, help Stiles up. Stiles, resigned, flips over and there's a crunch when he puts his left hand down in a pile of grey icy mush.
Derek is suddenly there, pressing Stiles back and grabbing at his left hand. Stiles tries to smack Derek away with his right, can only dislodge Derek by kneeing him in the ribs, a move Jackson of all people showed him. "You're hurt," Derek grunts, attempting to crab-walk back at Stiles but Stiles holds him off with a foot flailed in his direction.
"I noticed!" Stiles snaps, sees that he put his hand straight down on the jagged remains of a glass bottle. Stiles sits up slowly, looks at his palm. The cut doesn't look too deep but Stiles is pretty sure there's still glass in it so that means either Deaton, the hospital or his dad.
Stiles decides on Deaton being the lesser of three bad choices. He's going to get a lecture no matter where he goes.
"Can I?" Derek makes another abortive move towards him and Stiles shakes his head.
"I need to go back into town. You'll have to drive me because I can't like this."
"Of course," Derek nods, brisk. He stands, looks like he finally wants to help Stiles up but Stiles just glares at him so he keeps his distance.
"You're making your apology noise. Stop it."
Derek glances at Stiles, brow furrowed deep. "My what?"
Derek has been making a high, tight whine in the back of his throat that Stiles is pretty sure he isn't even aware of. Stiles has started calling it his apology noise because he seems to only make it when Stiles is hurt as a direct result of the pack or Derek himself.
"I don't do that," Derek dismisses when Stiles explains this and Stiles rolls his eyes, waits five minutes and then points a finger at Derek's nose.
"You're doing it again."
"I don't... that's not what it is," Derek says, but he sounds unsure.
"I make conclusions based on facts."
"You just want me to apologize. You're casting aspersions on my noises."
"I don't want you to apologize. I want you to not hurt me," Stiles says, sullen, hunkering further down in the Derek's passenger seat. He's not sorry that he has his wet ass on Derek's leather, even squishes around a little maliciously.
"I don't hurt you on purpose."
"You tripped me onto my face. The bottle could've ended up in a worse place, like my face."
"I need you to learn-"
"That I'm a squishable human with breakable bits. Yeah, I knew that already. I’ve known that pretty much my whole life, had it really driven home when I tried making like Superman off our garage roof and broke my wrist when I was six."
"That's not what I was going to say," Derek grumbles. "If you want to be pack then you have to learn what they do."
"I can't believe you. You're trying to make this my fault."
"I wouldn't be bleeding if you hadn't come out of the forest like a crazy wolf."
"You wouldn't be bleeding if you'd pay attention when I'm teaching self defence instead of having a dumb look on your face."
Stiles scowls at the side of Derek's head. "It's not my fault that I'm permanently one misplaced bathroom towel away from a black eye with you." Derek blinks at that, then his mouth tightens down.
"You're comparing yourself to Julia Roberts?"
"You got my reference?" Stiles splutters, astounded.
"We're not... how am I an abusive husband in this scenario?"
"Look, I get that affection, discipline and physical violence are all kinda one and the same to you, but if we're going to be... whatever it is we've started being," Stiles falters, suddenly stumped as to how to quantify the tentative truce that's been happening between him and Derek lately that involves Derek not hating him so much. Derek’s even making sure he's the one curled around Stiles in post-monster hunting puppy piles lately, nose pressed to Stiles' pulse point and making a noise that Stiles would tell him is dangerously close to a purr if he didn’t value his balls being attached to his body quite so much. "Then you gotta stop knocking me around before people on the street start giving me pamphlets about shelters."
"I don't hurt you," Derek repeats, a little mulishly, but also a little uncertain which is progress.
"You emphasised a point by smacking my head into a steering wheel. I shouldn't have to explain that that's not okay."
"I don't mean to hurt you. It's just that you... I get..." Derek takes his hands off the steering wheel for a second so he can clench them before he puts them back.
Stiles can't decide whether the end of Derek's aborted sentence would have been frustrated or something worse.
"You know when you've done the wrong thing because that's when the apology noise happens," Stiles says, gently. "I know you kinda wish I would just get with the wolf program but I'm not going to, which means you have to modify your behaviour, the same as I do. I won't do dumbass stuff that will get me killed and you won't do dumbass stuff that will get me killed."
"Can I get that in writing, the you not doing dumbass stuff?" Derek asks.
"Okay, I might do dumbass stuff still but I'll at least think very carefully about it and rule out any other options. So, you can do the same. Was there a better way of teaching me forest awareness that didn’t involve a surprise attack?"
"I guess," Derek huffs.
"Was there a better way of you reaching me that didn't involve you trudging through the forest in the dark by yourself even though we've had reports of a rogue werewolf pack looking for new territory the next town over?"
"My jeep broke-"
"Alright, yes. I could've had Scott with me. It's just that... Allison's not talking to him at the moment so that means I have to... about Allison and that makes me, well, probably the bottle to the face would've been less painful."
"You could've come in the daylight."
"I had urgent news."
"I know you think I'm some kind of werewolf Amish but I do have a phone.” Derek cuts him a look out of the corner of his eye. “Unlike what I’ve heard you tell the others, I don't believe there are tiny people in the television, that a camera captures your soul or that there's a guy inside the fridge turning the light on and off either."
"I believed that until I was twelve, about the fridge guy," Stiles muses. "I thought if I could just open the fridge quick enough I'd catch him."
"What was it?"
"The guy inside the fridge? I don't know, I thought some kind of leprechaun only colder-"
"The news, Stiles."
"Oh, right. Um, is it weird that I can't remember?"
Derek makes a noise that tells Stiles that he doesn’t think it’s weird, but that it’s typical. “How about we both agree to be more careful?” Derek offers, then when Stiles is a little slow to respond, he flicks Stiles in the ear.
“Ow, what were we just talking about?” Stiles protests.
Derek is... he’s smiling which is a little unsettling so Stiles doesn’t notice that they’ve reached Deaton’s until Derek is out of the car and thumping on the roof.
"Yeah, right, okay. Good talk."
"What are you doing wandering alone in the forest at night?" Hunter One, resplendent in cliche hunter wear of trucker cap, denim and flannel, asks.
"I didn't say smart human, figured that wouldn't be a deal breaker with you boys."
"Can't we kill him?" Hunter Two asks, revealing a mouth that has a lot less teeth than it should. He spits sideways when he talks, charming.
"I'm pretty sure he’s human," Hunter One says, sounding disappointed.
"Yeah, but he's really annoying."
"Hey!" Stiles barks, puts his hands back up high when the guns that had started to lower rise again.
"I think he's a sympathiser," Hunter Three pipes up.
"That's a thing? Really?" He'd prefer the term collaborator himself, sounds more action-y, more involved. Stiles is pretty sure Derek would go with chew toy if he had his way which, ugh.
“We can’t leave him here,” Hunter Two, hanging back and looking a little more menacing than the other two contributes. Stiles isn’t sure what it says about his life that he’s started being able to identify the most dangerous person in a fairly dangerous group just by sight.
“Right, yes, because I’m human. I’d appreciate an escort back to my jeep which is right over-erk!” Okay, what else does it say about his life that Stiles has been bound enough times in enough different ways that he knows he hates zip ties the most. At least they’ve bound his hands in front of him but that’s probably more about how much of a non-threat he presents than any real concern for his comfort level.
There’s a howl in the distance and Stiles tries not to flinch, hoping that it’s not Scott. They split up for a reason, mostly so the hunters would track Stiles and his blundering through the undergrowth and allow Scott enough time to make himself scarce. Hunters are unlikely to kill a human without provocation but they won't hesitate to kill a werewolf, even the peaceful, rainbows and unicorns kind.
Stiles stands a much better chance.
It’s not Scott though because there’s a blur of fur and darkness and then Hunter One and Three are down. “Son of bitch!” Two cries and then his face tightens and his gun swings in Stiles’ direction, eyes going canny. “Just a human out for a stroll, huh?” he snarls and Stiles doesn’t feel any satisfaction in being proven correct that he was the one to worry about.
“You come for him? He mean something to you? Ready to watch me blow his brains out?” Two yells into the darkness, nostrils flared and eyes searching.
“Go ahead.” Derek’s there, just outside the range of the paltry glow of the hunter’s flashlight. Stiles can just make out the cut of his torso, the line of his bare feet.
“You really want me to believe that you don’t give a crap if I ventilate this kid's head a little?”
“Not really. We’re just two coyotes circling the same bunny rabbit after all.”
Stiles doesn’t have time to be outraged with the comparison between himself and a fluffy bunny when something hits Hunter Two from behind. It’s Scott and Stiles is both furious and relieved.
“You’re supposed to be miles away from here, miles,” Stiles grumbles as Scott cuts Stiles’ bound hands free.
“You okay?” Derek grunts, still a few feet away. Stiles frowns in his direction because usually Derek is all up in his business when he's been threatened, sniffing for injuries and generally being a pain in the ass except... for the last three weeks he really hasn’t been doing that, ever since he and Stiles had their little chat about the un-fun kind of bad touching.
Stiles can’t believe he hadn’t noticed till now. Over-touching was part and parcel of the whole werewolf thing and Stiles had gotten ridiculously used to it. “Stiles?” Scott doesn’t seem to be having any issues, patting at Stiles tentatively until Stiles flaps hands at him.
“Dude, I’m okay,” he says.
Derek huffs, still standing apart from them. “Can I trust you guys to make it back to Stiles’ jeep without incident?” he asks.
“Yes,” Scott grumps, sounding put-upon and Derek gives a small nod and melts back into the shadows.
Stiles really wants to ask what’s up but doesn’t know how to without making both himself and Scott extremely uncomfortable. Scott doesn’t really give him the opportunity when he grabs Stiles in a loose headlock and tows him back towards the jeep.
Isaac is looking at Stiles blankly. “Magic Pudding?”
“It’s a kid’s book? About this kinda surly pudding that’s sentient and when it runs around it has a bowl for a hat and... it just looks like these guys okay?”
“Can you stop talking about it?” Isaac huffs.
“Why? Am I freaking you out?”
“No, now I just really want pudding.”
Stiles rolls his eyes. Freaking werewolves thinking about nothing but their stomachs, honestly.
He and Isaac are hunkered behind the burnt out skeleton of a car in the middle of a field. There’d been some low-level mischief lately, not enough to be that worried about but enough for them to investigate. Derek is a territorial asshole when it comes to other supernatural critters getting close to the imaginary Hale boundary line. It was also low-level enough for Stiles to be allowed to accompany the Pack and now Stiles really wishes he hadn’t for once because tiny little dudes in red hats carrying bloody sacks and giggling maniacally is something he could’ve gone his whole life without seeing.
“Caps,” Isaac says. “Not hats, caps.”
“Does it make a difference?”
“Well, they’re called Red Caps so I’m guessing it does,” Isaac grumbles, sounding peeved now. Before Stiles can respond, something lands on his back.
“Get it off!” Stiles screeches, flailing as what feels like a dozen tiny pins sink into the back of his neck.
“Stop, drop and roll!” Isaac yells at him.
“I’m not on fire, I have a tiny evil goblin thing on meeeee!” Stiles cries, flailing as Isaac tries to dart around him. His legs get swept out from under him and Stiles goes down in an untidy heap. There’s a crunch from underneath him and Stiles groans as something warm, wet and pungent streaks down his back, underneath his shirt.
“Isaac’s plan wasn’t a bad one,” Derek says.
“Wow, you squished it good,” Isaac says as Derek hauls Stiles back to his feet by the shirt-front. As soon as he’s released, Stiles shrugs out of his shirt with a grunt of distaste. Derek looks away, jaw tightening.
“A little help?” Stiles says, offering his back, rolls his eyes when Derek still won’t look at him. It’s Isaac who shrugs and comes forward, picking up a hank of grass on his way so he can scrub bits of Red Cap bone and guts from Stiles’ back. “Really, you’re squeamish about this?” Stiles says over his shoulder at Derek.
“I thought you’d be skinnier,” Isaac notes as he makes quick work of the macabre goo on Stiles’ skin, nudging Stiles’ ruined shirt away with the toe of his boot. “You’re hiding some nice muscle definition under the fifteen layers you normally wear.”
Derek makes a disgruntled noise and stalks way. “I’ll check on the others, see if they’ve gotten them all,” he snaps.
“You do that!” Stiles calls after him and he and Isaac share a puzzled look. “You really think I’ve got good definition?”
“Oh yeah, totally coming along nicely,” Isaac says.
“You’re my new favourite,” Stiles says and Isaac smiles and rolls his eyes.
Not that he believes him.
“It might be my fault,” Scott admits when Stiles finally breaks and tells him that Derek has been avoiding him like he has some unspecified plague.
“What’s your fault?”
“He asked me about the whole thing with you and the hurting and... he’s excellent with the wolf instincts but not so crash hot with the human ones.”
“Yeah, he can be the douchiest douche in all of douchedom but what does that have to do with me?”
“I... kinda accused him of basically pulling your pigtails. He got really grouchy and then... just quiet.”
“He’s a pretty laconic guy.”
“Stiles, I was joking but I could tell it really bothered him.”
“What, the thought that someone would believe he, y’know, felt stuff for me? Yeah, I could see why that would upset him,” Stiles grumbles. He’s surrounded by super sexy werewolves on a daily basis, he doesn’t really need more stomping on his ego, thanks. When Stiles makes to slide from the jeep’s hood where he and Scott are perched, Scott grabs him by the wrist.
“It bothered him because I was right,” Scott says.
Stiles just blinks back at him for a second before he collapses into giggles. “Oh sure, uhuh, yep, right,” he gasps when he gets himself back under control. The thought that Derek Hale, sexiest of the super sexy werewolves... just no.
“It’s true,” Scott asserts, folding his arms and glaring when Stiles collapses into hysterics again.
“I love you man, I really do, but you’re such a donut.”
It takes Stiles jiggling Derek’s foot for about thirty seconds before Derek stirs and even then he kind of just smiles dopily before he seems to realize where he is and he jumps up. “Oh, um, hello.”
“Hi?” Stiles says, makes explain yourself rolls of his hands.
“Uh, I didn’t know you’d be home this early.”
“That’s what you’re going with, really?”
Stiles narrows his eyes, then what Scott said echoes through his brain and suddenly it doesn’t seem so implausible. Especially presented with a Derek who is not being his aloof yet lurky self but instead is guilty, frazzled and in his room. “Do you have a crush on me?” Stiles asks slowly, can’t really believe the words coming out of him but...
“Don’t call it that. It sounds so... juvenile,” Derek huffs, looking mortified. He digs fingers into his hair and tugs. “I’ll... I'm not sure what it is? It’ll go away.”
“Wait, wait, wait. You do?”
“I thought you knew?”
“In what alternate universe would I even think that was possible?” Stiles demands.
“You’re just so...” Derek very uncharacteristically flails his arms.
"Why didn't you just tell me?"
"You don't like me," Derek says, rushes to add when Stiles opens his mouth to protest, "Like that, I mean."
"How do you know?"
"You're pining for Lydia."
"Yeah I... Lydia is like that song. The Impossible Dream? You're-"
"No," Stiles says, makes a frustrated face. "If Lydia is impossible, you are in a whole other stratosphere than that. Impossible doesn't even come close. It's probably why I never really thought about it."
"Oh my god, I'm still a teenager, of course I've thought about it, but not in a realm of actual possibility way."
"I'm just putting it down to temporary insanity," Derek says.
"But I don't want it to be temporary!" Stiles blurts, and when Derek frowns at him, he sighs, dropping down onto his bed, the top sheet still warm from Derek's body. He wants. Oh god, he wants.
"I do. Yes, absolutely, one hundred percent I do!"
"You don't know what I was going to say."
"It would have been something depressing, knowing you," Stiles says, knows he's right when Derek just grimaces. "I can't believe you actually like me. You like my snub nose and my brushy head and my-"
"Stop describing yourself," Derek says, sounding pained. "I'll change my mind."
"You can't, not now. I grow on people, like moss. Totally charming, irrisistable moss."
"There it goes, mind changing," Derek says, but his lips are twitching and Stiles reaches up and tugs at Derek's hand until Derek sinks back down onto the bed next to him, pressed together, ankle to knee.
"Can you just... not rule it out? Not yet," Stiles says. He hasn't relinquished Derek's hand and Derek hasn't taken it back. Instead he drops his other one over their linked fingers, taps contemplatively.
"It's a bad idea."
"You say that about everything. You're a complete pessimist."
"Someone has to be," Derek says.
"Just..." Stiles darts forward, quick because he's expecting Derek to block him and manages to press a dry kiss to Derek's lips. He curls back, blinking and watches Derek closely, looking for signs of impending punching.
Derek just takes one of his hands back and presses his thumb to his lips thoughtfully. "Okay, so maybe it won't be so terrible," he finally admits.
"A ringing endorsement if I ever heard one!" Stiles proclaims, drops Derek's hand so he can loop his arms around Derek's waist and squeeze.
"Oh god, cuddling, really?" Derek says, but it only sounds like a token protest at best.