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Stiles accepts the fact that Scott said he'd only be five minutes. But lunch waits for no man. So Stiles has already made a significant dent in his own, by the time Scott fills the seat in front of him. He looks like he ran the whole way, practically vibrating with thoughts he has to share. Stiles doesn't think it's important enough to stop eating. There's a very short list of things which rank above delicious foodstuffs, and Lydia is quite clearly fine. She's three tables over, oozing superiority and perfection.

"Derek's missing," Scott opens with. Which isn't quite important enough to stop eating. Though Stiles is surprised enough to stop chewing for a second, that's the best the grumpy werewolf is going to get.

"What do you mean missing? Is that actually missing, or just more subtle in his lurking than usual?" Because if Derek just decided to stop jumping out at people, or hovering ominously at the nearest tree line, Stiles is pretty sure no one would ever see him. It's possible he does that on purpose, since Stiles figures he's perfectly capable of stalking people without their knowledge.

"Erica and Boyd say they haven't seen him for almost a week." Scott dumps his stuff on the chair next to him without looking, and half of it promptly falls off.

"Maybe it's on purpose," Stiles suggests, because that's honestly the first thing that pops into his head. "Maybe he's avoiding them, they're the worst problem children ever, and they ran away from home, remember. You probably can't, like, return werewolves to the store if you realise you made a bad life choice."

Scott pouts, which he absolutely shouldn't do, because it makes him look all of twelve years old. Also, Stiles was in no way including Scott in the werewolves that should be returned. Scott's a keeper.

"He's their Alpha, he wouldn't abandon them." Scott says it like he knows for certain, and Stiles is briefly irritated because this is clearly one of those feelings Scott gets that he doesn't think Stiles would understand. Werewolf intuition or something - definitely not werewolf indigestion. Because Scott would absolutely know the difference.

"I'd abandon them," Stiles says without hesitation. "I'd leave them on a doorstep, in a basket. I might, at a push, leave a note." Stiles takes the opportunity to half fill his mouth - only half, so he can still talk and eat at the same time. "Though the note probably wouldn't be complimentary."

Scott actually looks physically pained, face all scrunched up, and it's been a while since Stiles had seen that face show up for anyone but Allison. Stiles sighs and puts what's left of his sandwich down.

"Dude, why do you care anyway? Why don't you just enjoy the moment. I'm sure he'll show up somewhere eventually, when you least expect it, like your bedroom, or my bedroom, or some dark, shadowy corner. And, yes, I realise how much I just made Derek sound like a sex offender there. But, really, he only has himself to blame."

"Seriously, Stiles, I'm worried. If there's something out there that can take out Derek."

Loath as he is to admit it, Scott has a point.

"Tall, dark and grumpy is kind of our yardstick of badass," he allows. There was something to be said for having a yardstick of badass around when you needed one. Though at a push Stiles would admit that wasn't all Derek was good for. "Did Peter do something?"

Scott shakes his head.

"He was the first person I thought of. He's still out of town."

Stiles grunts, and stabs his straw into his juice.

"Hey silver lining. Did you check the woods?" Whenever they lose something it's almost always in the woods, or near the woods, or buried in the woods. Though Stiles isn't going to mention that, because it probably won't be helpful. He really hopes nothing is buried in the woods.

Scott's already nodding.

"I checked the house, I checked the woods -"

"All of the woods? There are a lot of woods." There are not only a lot of woods, but a lot of land around the woods, creeks, possibly caves as well. There are a lot of places to get lost, and never be seen again. Or possibly be eaten by a bear. Could Derek get eaten by a bear? Stiles has never really thought about a bear/werewolf match-up before. Not that he wants to see one because that would just be wrong. Hypothetically awesome - but wrong in real life.

Scott rolls his eyes. "Yes, all of the woods."

Stiles gives him a pointed look.

"Did you check Allison's basement?"

Scott glares at him for a millisecond, then sighs, and now he's wearing his face of resolve and maturity. It's new so he doesn't really have a handle on it yet. "Allison said it wasn't her. She said she didn't have anything to do with it."

Stiles manages a dubious sideways squint, in response to that. Because he likes Allison, he really does, but she's kind of proven she is terrifyingly good at using her powers for evil. Better than Stiles would have ever imagined she could be. Her face-heel turn had kind of proven that, and a half-evil Allison is still pretty freakin' scary. So scary that she's still doing the whole 'I'm sorry I tried to horribly injure you all with sharp instruments,' a month later. There were even muffins, I'm-sorry-I-tried-to-kill-you, muffins. Which were delicious. Stiles is friends with too many people who've tried to kill him to feel like he can judge. Which sounds terrible, when he puts it like that. He has awful friends and he's clearly already doomed.

Scott frowns.

"She didn't - she didn't smell like him, I checked. I don't think either of them have been hunting since - well, you know." He shrugs, because, yeah, they don't have to fill in the end of that any more. But Scott still sounds like he wasn't happy about checking out Allison's story.

"I'm very proud of you for your uncharacteristic suspicion," Stiles tells him, and gives him a cookie, because he deserves it.

*****

Derek continues to be a no-show for the next week, then the week after. Scott spends days in class staring off into the distance and frowning, as though he might catch a glimpse of Derek on the horizon. Which is really disturbing, and makes him look like he's gone insane, or that he's about to start shouting that someone's house is on fire. Stiles is genuinely starting to worry about him. He's also starting to worry about Derek too. Which proves the world is ending or something. No one should get attached to Derek, Derek is mean, and aggressive, and he sucks all enjoyment and happiness out of the world. But Stiles is worried about him anyway. You can't have life-saving adventures with someone, and not worry about them. No matter how much of a dick they could be.

"Dude, he's not your Alpha any more, why are you so antsy?"

"I don't know," Scott says, honestly sounding like he doesn't, while he buries his nose in textbook after textbook, like he can replace the smell of wrongness with the scent of paper and hormonal teenagers. "I don't know, maybe it's the fact that there's no Alpha around." He shakes his head, and shifts in his chair like his skin doesn't fit right.

Stiles tries not to think about what that means, if it's some sort of proof that Derek isn't coming back. Which is stupid, because of course Derek is coming back. He leans further over the back of the chair, wood digging into his ribs.

"What do we do if something worse shows up? Is there still a pack without Derek?"

Scott shakes his head again, face scrunched and helpless.

"Do you, like - have to take over Alpha duties?" Stiles says around a pen. "Run off interlopers? Make sure Isaac and Erica eat all their vegetables, maybe keep a leash on Uncle McCreeps-a-lot?"

Scott's face scrunches impossibly further. As if he doesn't even want to roll that thought around in his head.

"Yeah, I know how you feel man, you're way too young to be a dad."

"Stiles, this is serious."

Stiles sighs, because, yes, yes, it probably is.

"I know, he'll show up. He always shows up."

Erica, Isaac and Boyd find them twice after school, all scowls and questions. If anything they seem worse than Scott, restless, like they can't stay still, like they're desperate for something. Stiles had mostly been joking, but the way they look at Scott, as if he'll tell them what to do. It doesn't bode well. There is ill boding. Stiles has a foreboding feeling about the whole thing. And he's officially used the word 'bode' too much there, and it doesn't even make sense any more.

"Maybe he just had to leave for a while, secret Alpha business. It's not like he tells us anything about that. It's not like he tells us anything. This is why he needs to tell us things. So we can avoid the unnecessary fretting when he takes off without telling anyone." Stiles throws his arms out, gesturing, as best as he can at the current Derek-less state of the world.

"Does Derek seem the type to abandon his pack to you?" Scott's worried eyebrows are going to stay that way. It's a genuine fear that Stiles has.

But, yeah, Stiles has to admit, Scott's right. No matter how horrible his kids can be, Derek would stick it out. Derek wouldn't leave unless someone made him, unless he didn't have a choice. Stiles doesn't want to say what they're both thinking. It's pretty obvious by now that something bad has probably happened. The question is, what are they going to do about it?

"So we look for him, right?" Stiles says firmly. "We retrace his steps, where's the last place we saw him lurking?"

Scott looks at him blankly.

"I don't know, I haven't really seen him much lately. I just...noticed when he was gone."

Stiles does the inquisitive eyebrows at him, but Scott just shrugs in a way that isn't helpful at all.

"You noticed he was gone even though you haven't really seen him. Is that another wolf thing?"

Scott's always been easily frustrated, but he's forcing it back now, Stiles can see it happening.

"I guess. I should have been paying more attention. I was so busy worrying about Allison. I never even thought something could happen. Not so soon after Jackson and the kanima and everything."

"When did we see him last? Did you even talk to him after the whole - the whole Gerard thing?"

Scott frowns, and there's a blend of guilt and anger there, churning together in one expression.

"No, I figured if anything new showed up he'd come to me. Or let me know or -" he shrugs.

Stiles exhales, loud and noisy.

"Ok, so this might be tougher than I thought. Does his phone have GPS, can we track his phone somehow? You'd have to go to Danny for that. Because I'm pretty sure I'm officially all favoured out. He likes you better anyway."

"I can ask," Scott says. "I'll ask him next time I see him."

*****

Stiles is halfway through a dream involving a library bookcase attempting to eat him, when his phone starts vibrating. He's already reaching for it, before he's fully shaken off the crushing pressure of murderous, bound volumes and sharp paper. He manages to knock half his stuff onto the floor, body still not as well trained as his brain to react to night-time disruptions. He squints at the screen in the darkness, before he hits the button. It's three in the morning. On a Saturday.

"Someone better be actively being murdered."

"Stiles!"

He was joking, but it occurs to him, with a horrible sort of realisation, that someone genuinely could be being murdered. That's his life now.

"We found Derek." Scott doesn't sound happy. He sounds out of breath, and a little panicked, through the phone. There's a mess of noise in the distance that sounds like the dry, cracking splinter of wood, and then someone shouting. "Stiles you need to get here." Scott's moving, Stiles can tell by the jerky nature of his words. He also knows Scott well enough to know that he has no idea what to do.

Stiles fights his way out of the sheets, phone jammed between ear and shoulder, already trying to find his jeans, before his eyes have properly adjusted to the dark.

"Is he -"

"He's alive, we're at his house - just get here."

Scott hangs up, before Stiles can ask any questions.

Which is how Stiles ends up at the Hale house at four in the morning on a Saturday. The creepy burnt-out house in the woods is starting to lose some of its sinister allure due to familiarity.

"Scott?" Stiles calls his name before he realises that may be an epically bad idea. It may in fact be the worst idea ever, because there are werewolves who can hear the rustle of leaves from across town, and Stiles isn't even trying to be quiet. Though he feels like if this is the sort of situation that involved quietness, and things possibly trying to eat them, then Scott would have mentioned it. Only he probably wouldn't have. Scott is awful at need-to-know information. Which doesn't make Stiles feel any better about the fact that something is growling. Something is growling loudly enough that he can hear it from outside, the slow, lawnmower grate that sounds like it's coming from a huge animal that desperately wants to rip something apart. Stiles has no idea how he didn't hear it before.

"Stiles."

It's Scott's voice, quietly careful, as if he doesn't want to make too much noise, but Stiles thinks he can hear the thready note of panic anyway, and he's taking the porch steps two at a time, skidding through door frames.

"Stop. Don't move."

There's something about the desperate, hissed-out command that has Stiles freezing in place, foot still half-raised off the floor. Scott's pressed to the side of the door, looking like he's trying to mime a wince. He reaches out for Stiles's wrist, and doesn't relax until he has hold of it. His fingers are hot and sweaty.

The raw, deep growling is coming from the back of the room. Stiles can just make out a low, pale, folded-over shape in the very corner, the slices of half-moon light digging through the walls are just enough that he can pick out quick, jerky heaves of skin.

"Is that Derek?" Stiles whispers incredulously.

Scott doesn't say a word, because it is, it obviously is.

"Oh my god, what the hell -"

"I don't know," Scott says over him, voice thin and worried. "I don't know. He's not - he's not talking he's just doing that." Scott's voice goes lower, so low Stiles can barely hear it. "Something's the matter with him, he's not acting like a person, he's not even acting like he knows who I am."

Stiles shakes his head, can't look away from the shape in the corner, that looks like Derek and yet really, really doesn't at the same time.

"When did you get here?" He whispers over

"A couple of hours ago. I don't know what to do. I don't know how to deal with this." Scott's very slowly shaking his head, fingers tightening and relaxing on his wrist. Stiles gets the feeling he's thinking about dragging Stiles back out of the house again.

They'll deal with this the same way they deal with everything else, Stiles guesses, stumble around in the dark until they find a light switch, or something bites them. He's really hoping this isn't a biting situation.

"Also, he's naked," Scott adds, like it's a secret that he's a little embarrassed about.

"Yes," Stiles says. "Yes, he is naked, thank you. I noticed that."

Derek's not just naked, he's a mess. He looks like he dug himself out of the ground - and it doesn't look like it was easy. He's caked in dirt, the only clean thing in the dark is the glint of his teeth, all five million of them, if Stiles is any judge. "What the hell happened to him?"

"I don't know -" Scott sounds pained. "I saw him in the woods, and I followed him here. He wouldn't let me close. He didn't even try and change back to human. He's been there ever since."

"Making that noise," Stiles suspects.

"Pretty much. Sometimes it's worse, sometimes it gets sort of quiet and sounds like it hurts." Scott's mouth goes pinched in sympathy.

Derek's shoulders are hunched up, and he's backed into the wall. There's a glint of something bright, jutting up out of the skin of his shoulderblade, just to the left of his spine.

"What the hell is that?" Stiles whispers, he doesn't know why he's whispering, it's not like everyone can't still hear him anyway. But something about the low rumble coming from the back of the room is telling his lizard brain that not drawing attention to himself is a very good thing.

"I think it's a broken knife."

"He has a broken knife in his back and no one thought to take it out?" Stiles says sharply.

Scott throws his hands up in slow motion. "You think we didn't try? By all means go over there and take it out."

Stiles takes one look at the glare of red eyes in the darkness, and the edge of teeth, bared and absolutely ready to rip into soft, human flesh and decides that, no, staying over here is kind of fine by him after all.

"What about Erica, Isaac and Boyd, they're his pack, why aren't they here?"

"They were here," Scott says. "I called them straight away. It didn't exactly go well."

Stiles takes a cautious step closer to Scott, barely a shuffle on the floorboards.

"Define 'didn't go well.'"

"Erica had to drag Boyd out because Derek pretty much chewed his arm off, and Isaac had to heal a load of broken ribs, and a bunch of claw marks. Derek just attacked them, and he wouldn't stop snarling until they left."

Stiles goes cold all over, and restrains the very real urge to thump Scott in the arm. If he wasn't worried about a possible terrible mauling, if he dares to make any sudden movement, he might have done it.

"Oh my God, and you tried to make me go over there?"

"I didn't try and make you," Scott says, which is a lie. "Besides he's growling at me, he's not growling at you. "

"Probably because he thinks I'm breakfast. He thinks you've brought him breakfast, and breakfast is not threatening. You don't growl at breakfast, you just eat it. Thanks, by the way, for making me take-out, I appreciate that."

Scott's guilty face is a thing to be treasured, but this really isn't the time. Stiles can still feel the sweaty grip of Scott's hand, the way his fingers are just a fraction too tight.

"You probably just smell familiar." Scott looks like he's guessing. "And you're not a werewolf. I don't think he wants other werewolves near him, because he's injured, and vulnerable and kind of -"

They both look at Derek's face.

"Not at home right now?" Stiles offers, and honestly that's the politest way he could have phrased it.

"Yeah," Scott says awkwardly, like he still doesn't know what that's all about.

"So, I smell familiar, but not in that threatening, werewolf way, in the tasty, delicious meat sort of way?"

"No - I mean well, yes -"

Stiles throws him a horrified look.

"That's not the important part," Scott says hurriedly, like he hasn't just admitted that there's the vague possibility that Stiles smells delicious on a daily basis, and not in a fun and/or sexy way. This is the sort of thing Stiles thinks should have been shared sooner. Or possibly never shared at all. Considering his social circle is now eighty percent werewolves.

"Not the important part? There's a feral werewolf, who may or may not want to devour my internal organs fifteen feet away."

"You're not a threat."

Scott's guessing again, Stiles can tell by the helpless little shrug. Scott is officially no longer allowed to make decisions which may have an impact on Stiles's ability to keep breathing. Scott is no longer allowed to make decisions, period. No decision making for Scott.

"No, I'm not a threat, what I am is incredibly fragile and breakable."

"We have to do something."

Derek's still growling, but he's sunk into a lower crouch, he doesn't look like he's prepared to lunge and bite through anyone's ribcage any more. Which isn't as comforting as you'd think.

"What exactly am I supposed to do, go over there, stick my hand out, and hope he doesn't decide to eat it?"

Scott shrugs.

Stiles boggles at him, there's no other word for it.

"Oh my God, that was your plan wasn't it. You're the worst, the absolute worst, you know that?"

Scott at least looks guilty about being the worst.

"Of all the stupid plans -" Stiles realises he's already pushing his sleeves up. He's already looking at Derek, like he's judging exactly how far he can go before he's officially within lunging distance. "Did I tell you that your plans are stupid? Because I feel like I should do that more, maybe on a daily basis."

"You usually have a better plan," Scott says, which is true. He's watching Stiles inch himself forward, towards the dirty mass of teeth and claws in the corner. "Maybe this isn't such a good idea."

"It's a little late for that, isn't it?" Stiles says peevishly, and keeps moving.

"Stiles?"

Stiles is already shuffling himself right into Derek's eyeline - like he wasn't watching them the whole time anyway - and seriously the first hint of a growl and he's out of there. It doesn't help that Scott's making that soft, whining noise in his throat, like Stiles is going to get his arm torn off, and Scott's going to have to explain that to his dad. Stiles likes his arms, and he would very much like them to remain where they are. He takes a few more steps, and he's definitely within lunging distance now. He kind of holds his hand out, he feels both ever so slightly terrified, and like a total idiot at the same time, and they're two emotions that do not make happy bedfellows.

Derek tips his head up a fraction, and Stiles freezes. He chances a look at Scott, who's holding his breath by the wall, hands spread like he might have to attempt to try and claw Stiles back towards him, and, yes, thank you, that's a brilliant reminder of how dangerous this is. Though Stiles does take some comfort in the fact that Scott would absolutely do it, his own safety be damned.

Somehow between one breath and the next, Stiles has his fingers against Derek's shoulder. It's slippery with sweat, not as warm as Stiles is used to the werewolves being. He exhales and puts the slightest pressure on the skin.

"Hey, Derek," he says helplessly, because he has no idea what you're supposed to say when you find one of your...werewolf acquaintances completely out of their mind, growling like they're about to see what your insides taste like. There's no handbook for this. Stiles is thinking that if he survives he might write one.

Derek's face is wrong. There's nothing recognisable there at the moment, no blend of human emotion, or even familiar anger. There's just this. His eyes are wrong too, wet red, like they've been bleeding, with huge, dark pupils. His upper lip is still curled back from his teeth - and there are currently a lot of teeth - but mostly he has his eyes, and his teeth, focused on Scott.

"Should I pet him?" That hadn't sounded so bad inside Stiles's head.

Scott looks at him like he's an idiot.

"Well I'm sorry, but I don't have a clue what to do with feral werewolves. And also, more importantly, we will never tell Derek that I asked whether I should pet him, never."

Scott sighs, and then shrugs - and that's a big fucking help, thank you Scott. Stiles takes a deep breath, shifts his hand, and sort of pats Derek's shoulder, in a gentle and completely non-threatening sort of way.

"No offence, Derek, but you're a mess. What the hell happened to you, dude?"

Derek tips his head forward, just a little, and Stiles can't help it, he very carefully lifts his hand and settles it in Derek's hair. It's soft and prickly at the same time, and there are flakes of red brown near the skin. The low bass rumble that had been going continuously drops low, and then stops completely.

Stiles swallows and lets his hand go still.

"Is that a good sign or a bad sign," he whispers, because he knows Scott can hear him.

"It's good," Scott says on the end of an exhale. "It's definitely good."

Stiles can't help the shaky little noise of relief he makes. Derek's sniffing his hand now, in a curious and completely non-threatening, but still kind of disturbing, sort of way.

"If he sniffs my ass I'm going to fucking kill you," he tells Scott through his teeth.

Scott makes a choked noise in his throat, which sounds like amusement, and also horror. Derek curls a lip in his direction. Which is definitely more disturbing when his face is like that.

"Why isn't he changing?" Scott asks, like Stiles is supposed to know this stuff. Why does everyone expect him to know these things? He's not the werewolf whisperer - feral werewolf petting notwithstanding.

Stiles shrugs. "Maybe he still feels threatened," he guesses. "Or maybe he needs some sort of emotional control to put that away and he doesn't have any right now."

The floorboards creak, and Stiles can track Scott's progress at the far side of the room by Derek's eyes.

Derek's back is hot and sweaty under the grim coating of dirt and old blood - and judging by the amount of old blood Derek has had worse than a knife in the back during the past three weeks.

"I'm going to need to get this out," Stiles says slowly.

Derek's watching him now - and that is more than a little terrifying from this close - his eyes are bright crimson, and Stiles remembers, belatedly that you're not supposed to look a dog in the eye. Because it will take that as an invitation to rip your face off. He's pretty sure that thinking of Derek as a dog in this situation probably isn't helping either.

"Dude, it's nasty, and it's broken. I don't give a crap whether you're a werewolf or not, that's just asking for some sort of horrible infection." He lifts his hand, until it's hovering over that red glint of metal.

The growl goes high, wavers over the line from warning to threatening, and every single hair Stiles has stands straight up. He's pretty sure he's going to get his face bitten if he get any closer.

"Stiles." Scott's panicky little girl voice is way too high, and is not doing anything good for his nerves.

"Ok, ok." Stiles slowly draws his hand away, and manfully doesn't lose control of his bladder. "Ok, no touching the horrible gaping wound. We'll leave it to fester, that's awesome. Congratulations on your life choices, Derek, which are awesome as always."

Derek stares at his hand, then at him, then at his hand again. When he seems to be satisfied that Stiles isn't going to yank the thing out when he's not looking he settles down again.

"Could we drug him, do you think?" Stiles says quietly. "Patch him up while he's unconscious?"

Scott's face goes through some sort of horrified wince.

"Should you be saying stuff like that where he can hear you?"

Stiles pointedly looks from Derek to Scott, though he doesn't think Scott gets it.

"I'm pretty sure Derek doesn't understand a word I'm saying right now," he says carefully.

"I don't even know if you can drug us. We don't know what's already in his system. I don't think he'd let us anywhere near him with wolfsbane. Besides, look at him, I'd pretty sure he'd just shrug off anything we gave him. I could ask Deaton, but other than that...?" Scott shakes his head. "I don't know."

"We can't just leave him like this?" Stiles says sensibly. Because Derek is, to put it bluntly, a freakin' mess.

"I don't think he's in any danger. It might be best to just wait until...he's feeling like himself again."

"You think that's going to happen?"

Scott looks at him, and there's a frown between his eyes that says he doesn't have a clue. He takes a step forward -

- there's an arm around Stiles waist, dragging him back across the floor, knees grating on the floorboards, and he just fucking knows he's going to have splinters in the palm of his hand. He ends up curled under the muddy arch of Derek's body, and the grip is tight enough to force all the air out of him. The growl is back, dry and deep, and Stiles tenses up completely, and braces himself for - something.

"Stiles," Scott says sharply - and Stiles can tell by the way he hunkers down and tenses, that Scott is actually going to do something amazingly stupid. Which he really wants to be touched about, because Scott is the best, he is. But that doesn't change the fact that Scott is going to get his throat ripped out if he tries, and that is unacceptable.

"Stay there," Stiles says, he tries for firm, but it comes out choked. "Don't move, just don't move."

Scott, thank God, listens to him, though he clearly doesn't want to. It's only because he trusts him. Stiles doesn't even know if he trusts himself right now. Derek is panting, damp with sweat, and he smells like a dead thing. He drags Stiles closer, arm tightening to seriously air-reducing levels, because Scott still looks like he really wants to try something. Stiles can feel the noise Derek's making vibrating through his back, and that's still pretty fucking scary.

"Holy shit, seriously, Derek, gonna need to breathe - Scott, back up, he's going to crush me."

Scott takes a step back.

"Derek." Stiles smacks his arm with a fist and, yes, for a second he can't believe he did that - but Derek relaxes the arm. Enough that he can kind of sag to his knees, but not enough for him to slip out of it, and Stiles swears, with feeling.

"I am not your goddamn chew toy," he wheezes out.

"Stiles?"

"We're good," Stiles says weakly. Which is...probably true? He very carefully tilts his head to the side to check. Derek doesn't look like he's planning anything homicidal. He looks like an angry dog backed into a corner, one that's been kicked so many times it'll bite anything that comes close. Everything except Stiles, apparently.

"Congratulations, you're his favourite," Scott says, he sounds like he doesn't know whether to be relieved, confused or horrified.

"Hooray," Stiles says, with a complete lack of enthusiasm. He chances another careful smack. "Come on, Derek, let me go. Scott has no intention of murdering me."

Derek grumbles, but Stiles is able to wriggle out of his grip, without anything terrible happening.

Stiles take one look as his shirt, and the mess Derek's arm and chest has made of it, and wrinkles his nose.

"Holy shit," Scott says breathlessly, like Stiles hadn't been the only one in danger of peeing themselves.

"Wow, yeah, that wasn't pleasant at all." Stiles cautiously backs up a couple of steps, and Derek doesn't attempt to drag him back, or do anything creepy.

Scott looks unsure whether to reach out and touch him or not.

"He came home, right? That has to mean something." Scott can go from fear to hopeful enthusiasm so quickly that it's almost funny.

"Not really," Stiles says. "I mean dogs go back to the last place they were sick. So I wouldn't read too much into it."

"I can't stay here. My mom will be home soon." Scott looks worried, and it's amazing how he can put his mom being mad, and Derek tearing his throat out into the same vague category. "I should at least look as if I wasn't out all night. I can't get grounded with this going on. Your dad -"

"He's working the early shift," Stiles says, and the more times he says that the less guilty he feels. "He should have left already."

Stiles gets a good look at Scott's constipated face of guilt and immediately gets it. He doesn't like it, at all, but he gets it. He really only has himself to blame. He should be harder to talk into things, especially things of a dubious and supernatural nature.

He nods.

"You want me to Derek-sit don't you?"

At least Scott looks guilty about it.

"Just make sure no one comes. He's not exactly up to dealing with anything at the moment."

"On the contrary, I think he's more than up to dealing with things. It's just probably not going to involve a lot of conversation. Biting, and mauling, and blood, and loud noises, yes, conversation, not so much."

"Which will in no way end badly for us." Scott shouldn't be allowed to use sarcasm. He always overdoes it.

Stiles knows he's going to cave, he knows it.

"Just so you know, if Derek decides to eat my insides out while you're gone we're officially no longer friends."

Scott now looks horribly conflicted about leaving, as if he's actually afraid he might come back to find Stiles's insides eaten out. Stiles decides he's going to hate him a little bit, just for a while.

"Bring some food, something that smells delicious to you, and nothing like my young, supple flesh. And some clothes maybe, I'm thinking clothes would be a good look for him right now," Stiles suggests.

"He doesn't look like he's in the mood to get dressed."

"It would make me feel so much better. Because I usually demand at least a very nice dinner before I let people press their naked bodies against me."

"There's probably some clothes here." Scott gestures towards the upstairs, what there is of it, and where Stiles doesn't really want to go, in case he falls through a floor or something. "I mean he used to stay here, and he left in a hurry so..." he shrugs.

He watches Stiles all the way to the door, face creased in guilt at being forced to abandon him, then he's gone and the full enormity of the situation sinks in like a lead weight.

"Shit."

Stiles decides that the first thing they're going to do is not find clothes. Stiles is pretty sure Derek had the water turned back on, if nothing else, and there's no getting around the fact that Derek can't stay like this. This is disgusting. But Stiles doesn't even know whether Derek will let him put him in the shower, or whether it will be a disaster of dog-bathing proportions, complete with optional biting. Still, Derek smells like someone dragged him through an abattoir and then rolled him in a field to dry, and there's no way Stiles is going to be able to deal with that smell. He has no idea how Derek is dealing with it, because it must be a thousand times worse for him.

It's a good job Scott's no longer here to tell him what a monumentally bad idea it is. He has no trouble at all imagining what face Scott would pull if he had any idea what Stiles was thinking. It would be the aneurysm face, definitely that one. He'd probably deserve it too.

Stiles wraps a hand round Derek's arm and very carefully pulls.

"Ok, umm, come on - come."

He takes a couple of tugs before Derek figures it out, which is lucky because there is absolutely no way that Stiles is moving Derek without his help. He must be curious enough - or maybe he's just bored of the corner of the room, because he follows him.

He follows him upstairs without complaint. Stiles had thought he might have trouble with the stairs, but he just dig his claws into the wood, and takes them three at a time.

Derek is apparently amenable to being pushed into the bath. Which is also unexpected. Though that may end up being the easy part. Stiles is absolutely prepared - probably prepared - for flailing, and growling, and angry protest, maybe even a little mauling. He's steeling himself for it. Derek doesn't do any of those things. The water rushes on with a heavy 'clunk,' and Derek just tips his head away from the flow of water, and looks savagely miserable. It's kind of sad and horrible. Stiles almost feels guilty - but the water flows gritty and awful, against the white sides. Blood and skin and dirt - and what look like little shards of bone, and Stiles just doesn't want to know. It takes him a second to realise he's going to have to help, that he's going to have to do something other than just tilting the spray in helpful directions.

And then once he's started - once he's made a clean spot - he can't stop. It's like some sort of terrible compulsion.

The one downside with Derek being mostly clean, is that he looks considerably more naked. Seriously there's a lot of naked going on. Stiles is trying to look at him without actually looking at him. Which is really hard considering he's trying to wash him. So he mostly concentrates on the safe parts, while occasionally apologising, and promising to blot things from his memory - or to try very hard to blot things from his memory. If anyone asks him what Stiles did at half past four on a Saturday morning he can say that he shampooed Derek Hale. This is his life now.

There's a quiet and very wet, snort when he gets shampoo in an eye, but there's mostly no complaining.

"I had no idea you could be even less loquacious than you already were," Stiles tells him, and resists the urge to do ridiculous things with Derek's hair, now he has it all shampoo-ified. Because it's right there, and he's already got his hands in it. Instead he tips him into the spray, and watches it all flatten and go dark.

Derek flinches a little when the water runs over the blade still embedded in his back, and Stiles winces in sympathy.

"Derek, you've got to let me take this out."

Stiles eases him back, and gestures at the shine of metal. He mimes pulling it out, and Derek just stares at him blankly. Right, ok, he's really not getting any of this is he.

"Ok, seriously, I'm just going to do it." He lays a hand on a shoulderblade and it twitches, quiet grumble starting in the back of Derek's throat. "It's ok, it's fine, I'm going to get it out of you and you will feel so much fucking better, I promise."

The grumble stops, and he moves slightly closer.

"I'll be as quick as I can, if you promise not to eat me, ok? There's a mutual promise of as little pain as possible. Because you can heal from whatever this thing has done, but I can't heal from you savaging me, you know that. You knew that, when you weren't having a werewolf Tarzan moment?"

The metal's slippery with blood and water, and the skin's been trying to heal over it, cutting itself open every time Derek moves, every time his shoulder heaves under a breath. It's almost impossible to grip, and Derek's growling like a bear, like the possibility that he's going to turn and sink his teeth into Stiles's throat is still an option here. Oh my God, please let that not be an option.

"Don't eat me," Stiles says carefully, in what he knows definitely isn't a calm and relaxed tone of voice. "Don't eat me, we're all cool. I'm just going to yank this fucking huge piece of metal out of you." Stiles gets a grip on it, finally, fingertips digging through old blood and new, and he tugs it up, through layers of muscle and skin, and it doesn't want to come. It's pretty intent on staying in there. There's a low, wet tone to the growl now, and Stiles doesn't know whether to keep pulling or get to a safe distance. But he's never been very good with those self-preservation decisions, so he keeps pulling.

Inch by inch the knife comes, in a wash of blood.

"Not going to be sick," Stiles mutters under his breath. Though he's not entirely sure that isn't false bravado, because it's much longer than he was expecting. It must have broken off right near the handle. He has a horrible, visceral mental image of it grinding against Derek's ribs and lungs, for hours, or longer, days maybe. "Not going to be sick." His voice sounds breathy and faraway.

And then it's done, and he has a handful of heavy metal, hot and slick in his palm. He tosses it, instinctively, as far away as he can, listens to it clatter against one of the walls.

"Yeah, we're good, see, I told you." He tilts Derek a little, so the water can wash the wound clean. It's already healing, the skin's closing already. He leaves Derek there for a second, while he pokes in one of the charred cupboards. "Ok, so you have towels, right? You must have towels, where would you keep towels? Probably not around anything burnt because they'd probably just get all gross - "

There's the sound of skin skidding on tile, and then Stiles has a face full of water droplets, and Derek is out of the bath and already wandering off, all wet footprints, dripping skin and phenomenal ass - and this is not what Stiles signed up for today. It's really not.

Though he does eventually find some sweats piled on a chair in one of the bedrooms.

Derek is resistant to the idea of pants. It's like trying to put a dress on a cat. A very strong, six foot tall, cat. The pants don't survive the experience, and it's pretty humiliating for everyone involved. This had been much easier with Jackson.

Though, to be fair, he'd been unconscious.

*****

Scott makes a racket coming in. Stiles doesn't know why he bothers, because Derek's been staring at the front door, lips pulled back from his teeth, for five minutes.

Stiles lets him in, because he's not entirely sure Derek knows how to work door handles any more, and Scott's hands are mostly full. Scott looks at Derek first, possibly to see if he's going to be eaten. But there's still just the teeth, and what Stiles likes to think of as an air of smug disdain, as if Derek has already proven he could savage Scott into little pieces if he wanted to.

Scott peers at Derek over the bags. It takes him a second to work out what's different.

"He's clean. How the hell did you do that - and, holy crap, you pulled the knife out." The bags are sliding down Scott's body, shock rendering him unable to hold anything. So Stiles takes them from him. "Are you crazy he could have killed you?"

"Hey, you left me with a dirty werewolf with a knife stuck in him, dude, what did you think I'd do? My decision-making skills and yours, really not the same."

"He's still naked," Scott points out.

"I'm not a miracle worker," Stiles says with a sigh. "Though that was number three on my list. I attempted to get him into pants. None of us came out of that with our dignity intact, so I think we're both just pretending it didn't happen." He looks at Derek. "I'm pretending it didn't happen. I suspect Derek thinks he won in some way."

Scott shakes his head.

"I'm not sure I even want to know."

"You don't," Stiles assures him. "Believe me, you don't - and as for the not eating me thing, yeah, thank you, since you're the one that left me with an Alpha werewolf who currently thinks he's a wild animal."

Scott comes close enough to tug open the bags Stiles set on the kitchen table. Which apparently is close enough that teeth becomes noise.

"Oh, shush," Stiles says, waving a hand at Derek without even looking. "He brought you food, we don't growl at the people who bring us food."

Derek's still growling, but now it's lower, more of a complaint at Scott's closeness than a genuine threat.

Scott eyeballs him sideways, sort of confused, as if he has no idea how Stiles does that, and it's worrying him that he doesn't know. Scott's wearing that pout - the one that says 'I'm the one who's a werewolf, how come you know everything?'

"Did you get what else I asked for?"

"The mountain ash, yeah." Scott digs in one of the bags, for the sturdy jar he'd picked up from Deaton. "What are you going to do with it?"

Stiles rolls the jar in his hand.

"I'm going to ring the house, because I'm assuming the last thing we want is for a naked, feral werewolf, who's not all there in the head, to be running around the woods savaging anything he doesn't like the look of. That wouldn't get any sort of attention we don't want, or anything. Honestly, do we really think Derek wants that going on his record?"

"He's not going to like being trapped here."

Stiles winces.

"Yeah, I know, I can totally see how that would be a bad thing. But it's not as if he has awesome processing power at the moment, and I think Derek is going to like coming back to himself in jail for multiple murders and indecent exposure even less - I'm just guessing."

Scott gives a sort of helpless, full-body shrug. Then slumps against one of the cabinets.

"Why does this stuff keep happening to us, seriously? It's not like we go out of our way to invite this stuff. Being a werewolf is hard enough, I'm seriously not prepared for any of this. How are we supposed to prepare for just anything to happen?"

Stiles shakes his head, short noise that's not a laugh, even if it sounds like one, breaking out of his throat.

"We're not, we're teenagers, we shouldn't be dealing with any of this shit. We should be neglecting our homework, getting drunk in the woods, pining over girls and fighting over who broke the XBox controller. Instead we get feral werewolves, witches, possibly psychotic hunters out to cut people in half." Stiles shrugs. "Honestly, you think I deal with any of this, or do you think I just flail my way through it, while trying to get bruised as little as possible. Have a psychotic break later while locked in my own bathroom." He gives another not-laugh.

Scott stares at him in silence for a long handful of seconds.

"I would be so screwed without you, you know that right?" he says, with feeling.

"And yet you left me with Derek," Stiles reminds him.

"He likes you," Scott protests. The 'he doesn't like me,' is kind of assumed there.

"You're a terrible person. You're lucky you're already my best friend." Because Stiles is awesome, and he doesn't abandon his friends.

Scott sighs, and does that stupid smile. The one Stiles is incapable of hating, because it's just that dumb.

"Let me see what you got."

Scott has brought steak, and Derek clearly knows he's brought steak, because he's suddenly upright, and pushing into Stiles's back, with all the clumsy enthusiasm of someone who thinks he's in charge. But doesn't have the words, or the ability to use thumbs, to back it up.

Stiles elbows him.

"Ah - no, the people who understand how packaging works get to eat first."

Scott throws him a dubious look.

"He's still the Alpha, technically, or rather he thinks he is. Even though he's not really doing what he's supposed to," he says awkwardly. "I don't think we get to eat until he's done,"

Stiles laughs and shakes his head.

"Dude, no, that's not happening. I'm starving. Please tell me you brought something that doesn't bleed?"

Scott pulls out a huge bag of chips, and a sandwich, and sets them on the table.

"This is why we're friends," Stiles points out.

Scott has tugged one of the steaks out of its packaging, and is eyeing it with a confused expression. There is absolutely nothing confused about the way Derek is looking at it, and if Stiles wasn't in the way he suspects it would already be half-eaten, along with most of Scott's hand.

"How am I supposed to - umm?" Scott gestures with the meat, in a sort of hilarious wave-y way.

"You could probably just throw it on the floor," Stiles says with a shrug.

"That's kind of disgusting," Scott points out.

"What are you going to do, give him a plate and some cutlery?" Stiles gestures to where Derek's claws have already half ruined the kitchen floor - what was left of the kitchen floor anyway.

Scott sighs, and then tosses it across the kitchen, and then looks completely ashamed of himself.

They both watch with a sort of horrified fascination.

"Y'know," Scott starts. "I've never actually been this freakin' terrified of him, and yet at the same time, I'm not sure I can ever look him in the face again without laughing."

Stiles nods helplessly. "I know right, it's insane."

Derek makes a horrible noise, as if to remind Scott that if he even thinks about trying to get his half-eaten steak back he'll eat him as well. The noise stops when Scott pulls another one out of the bag, turns into that 'hopeful dog,' expression. It makes Stiles snort messy laughter through his nose.

Though when Stiles pulls open the chips and starts eating them, Derek comes close enough to bash against his leg, and then he's doing the whole 'glaring with his mouth open' thing. In a 'hey, what are you eating, and why don't I have some, I should totally have some,' kind of way.

"Oh my God, fine." Stiles snags one chip out of the bag, and holds it out - and really he should have known that was the quickest way to get drool and steak juice all over his hand. Though to be fair Derek doesn't look like he's enjoying it much. Maybe Scott is a freak, for being a werewolf who enjoys delicious, cheese-dusted snacks. Derek leaves them to their cheesy snacks, they leave Derek to the steak, which he seems much happier about. Everyone is happy.

Stiles outlines his plan to put a barrier of mountain ash round the house, which Scott doesn't really protest against, because he's been following Stiles's plans pretty successfully for the past ten years or so. Though Stiles can still tell that he's not entirely convinced.

"Do we know how long until he gets back to normal? Do we know if he can get back to normal? What if his brain was, like, damaged permanently or something?"

Stiles hadn't even thought about the possibility that Derek might just be gone, and this is all that's left. He doesn't want to think about it.

"Of course he can get back to normal, I mean he's still there. He's still Derek."

"I could ask Deaton to check on him."

Stiles is weirdly unhappy with that, though he's not sure why.

"I don't know how Derek would react to Deaton."

"If he stayed outside the barrier?"

"I think I should probably test it first. I feel like we shouldn't be trusting the safety of anyone to my ability to believe in something on the fly. I have the attention span of a happy dog."

"Why not? You did it last time, and it totally worked."

The fact that Scott has faith in him is an awesome thing that Stiles isn't entirely sure he deserves. But he's not going to say it.

"You nearly got killed," Stiles reminds him. "Just so you know, I am against you getting killed, in any way." He sighs. "But, yeah, if you want to tell him what's going on. Just ask him what he thinks, ok?"

They both look at Derek, who's made a bloody mess of the floor, that Stiles will probably have to clean up. He's protecting the last steak out of the bag. But he looks at Stiles, like he's thinking about leaving it for him, which Stiles gets the feeling is kind of a huge deal.

"No, you eat it, I'm good with my delicious cheese, knock yourself out."

Scott shoulders his bag, and Stiles gives him a one-armed hug - which makes Derek growl, low in the back of his throat, like he thinks Scott might try and steal him or something.

"I really wish he'd stop doing that," Scott complains.

"I think he's imprinted on me, like a baby duckling."

Scott huffs laughter against his ear.

"No, dude, I think you're his baby duckling."

Ugh, that sounds so awful, and is also so not true.

"You are a cruel friend," Stiles says, but Scott laughs and hugs him back.

"Are you going to be ok here?"

"Yes, I won't pull out any knives, or make any sudden movements which will get me eaten, I swear. I'll sort out the whole mountain ash circle later, and try and keep him at least round the house. I mean I know this probably isn't the best place to put him, when his head isn't on straight, what with all the pretty horrific memories that might come back. But it's also the only place that's familiar. Also, way out in the middle of nowhere, so the neighbours won't call the cops about the wild, naked man growling on the lawn. Because, yeah, the cops are my dad, and I really do not need my dad to show up and catch me with a naked Derek Hale."

Scott nods like he understands the many, many ways in which that would be bad.

"Text me, like, every couple of hours." Scott doesn't add the 'if you do not text me I will assume you have been murdered,' but it's kind of assumed.

"Ugh, fine."

When Scott's gone Stiles does his best to clean dead cow off Derek, using a wet cloth he found near the sink. Then he uses it to try and clean the floor. Which accomplishes nothing but moving the blood, and soot, and pieces of broken tile and plaster and dust around. He makes a clean spot, and then feels bad about the fact that he's just going to leave it. This house is just one huge tragedy of sadness. No amount of effort could ever make it anything else.

He takes the jar of mountain ash outside, and Derek follows, looking oddly so much more naked outside.

"You realise you're probably breaking some sort of public indecency law," Stiles tells him. "And now I have seen so much more of you than you're probably comfortable with. I feel like I should apologise but, dude, it's like you're not even trying." He walks a circle around the property, to the tree line, so there's enough space that Derek doesn't feel trapped in the house. Derek follows him, making odd noises, which Stiles can't translate, little coughs in his throat. He has no idea whether they mean Derek wants to play, or whether he's afraid Stiles is going to go wandering off into the woods on his own.

When Stiles has finished he very cautiously takes a step over the line, then another. Derek makes to follow him and - stops. He blinks and takes two steps back, and then growls viciously at the empty space between them.

"Ok, ok, I was just testing it." Stiles steps back over the line, throws his arms out to show Derek that he can reach him again.

Derek digs his claws into Stiles's shirt, barely pricking through to the skin, and he pulls him back inside.

"You're such a baby, not wanting to be left on your own," Stiles tells him.

*****

Derek doesn't sleep, Stiles has to follow him from room to room, bumping into a shitload of things, because he can't see a thing in the dark, unlike some people.

It's exhausting, and he's genuinely worried that Derek will never get tired, and Stiles will just collapse in some random hallway that smells like charred wood. Derek seems intent on leading him around like he's showing him things, all aggressive pushes, holes pricked in his shirt, and bumps from behind, that turn into weird, messy sniffs against his ear.

Though Stiles does eventually fall asleep on the musty old couch, before he thinks to wonder whether it's a good idea or not. With Derek roaming around like a feral wild man -

He wakes up in complete darkness, with a mouth that tastes like death, and not a single clue where Derek is. He wanders back the way they'd come, not actually worried, keeping an eye out for the glow of red in the dark, or the gleam of far too much naked skin. Or the sound of claws on wood. It's like being in a horror movie, only with less screaming.

He eventually finds Derek at the top of the stairs, curled over in a crouch. There's a brittle, stained area of black wood on the floor, and Stiles's stomach rolls a little when he realises exactly what it is. He drifts close to Derek on silent feet, though he knows Derek can hear him. He carefully lays a hand on the curve of his shoulder. Derek doesn't react to it at all. Stiles doesn't know how long he's been there, but his skin is cold. He lets his fingers spread and move up to the back of Derek's neck, squeezes, just a little.

"This really isn't a good place for you, you know that?"

Derek's breathing too heavily, like he's on the edge of something huge and terrifying. Stiles honestly isn't sure whether he should push him over the edge, or draw him back from it. They both feel like awful decisions - but Stiles feels like - it feels like he's protecting Derek to draw him away.

"Derek." Stiles tugs at his arm, but Derek is like a statue of confused misery, immovable. "Come on, you don't want to be here, dude, not when you're missing the ability to compartmentalise." Stiles tugs again, and Derek's body goes loose, he lets Stiles pull him back to his room.

He doesn't settle though, he just prowls the corners, shoulder occasionally bumping into Stiles's knee, until Stiles pats his skin, or scratches his head. Working his way through yawn, after yawn.

Stiles doesn't mean to fall asleep again, at around three in the morning, but he does. This time in the cracked, half-collapsed mess of an old bed.

When he struggles his way out of it, it's already well into morning. Derek's watching him from not very far away at all, chin balanced on the tattered blankets.

Stiles's clothes smell like smoke.

*****

Stiles goes home long enough to shower and change, rumple a few things, so his dad's reassured that he's been there, and isn't dead in the woods somewhere. It doesn't feel like much, but he doesn't want to feel guilty about that right now. He makes promises to himself for later. He'll do better, he'll make more time for his dad, he'll find a way to tell fewer lies, without talking to him less.

But for now - for now he has to deal with Derek.

He texts Scott when he gets out of the shower. Half-formed idea already in the back of his head.

*****

When he gets back to the house, Scott's leaning against a tree, just outside the circle of mountain ash, bag dangling from one hand. There's a low growl coming from the interior of the house. It's an unhappy growl, and Stiles hadn't really thought about the consequences of leaving Derek alone. He couldn't get out of the circle, and it doesn't really matter if he breaks anything in there. But leaving him in the house, by himself, considering what happened there. Stiles hadn't thought about what that could do.

"Even without the line, he wouldn't have let me in without you here," Scott complains.

"He's still the same then?" Stiles tries not to look as disappointed as he feels. "I was kind of hoping spending time in the house would flip that switch in his brain that said 'be a person.'"

Scott sighs and shakes his head, then shrugs.

"Has he been growling the whole time?" Stiles asks.

"He mostly stopped once he heard you coming, this is quiet," Scott says flatly. "I know I complain about ordinary Derek a lot, but, dude, I like this one even less."

"He's lost his mind and he thinks you're a scary werewolf." Stiles pronounces 'scary werewolf' in a way that makes Scott pull a face at him. A 'you are being immature' face. Which is like a pot/kettle thing, so he's not even going to pretend to care. "You should be flattered."

Scott doesn't look flattered. Stiles would have thought he'd be happy about someone thinking he was a scary werewolf.

"I'm sixteen, I don't need my life to be this crazy."

Stiles wants to protest that now Scott knows how it feels. But he can recognise this particular flavour of anger. It comes from frustrated pining.

"Allison still doesn't want to see you, huh?"

Scott glares at him, and then sighs and hands the bag over.

"I'll come back about six."

Stiles isn't sure whether to be angry, or to gape in disbelief. Either way, what the hell?

"Seriously, you're leaving again?"

"I'm meeting Isaac, we're trying to work something out while Derek's...y'know. It's not easy, I'm not actually an Alpha, and I know even less than Derek does. But I think it's helping them. Having someone to sort of be in charge, which, ok, I'm not really good at. But I think it's better than just leaving them on their own to deal with it." Scott shrugs.

"Why do I get Derek duty? Why do I always get Derek duty?" Stiles complains.

Scott shrugs again, helplessly, and then he's just gone. Before Stiles can even sigh dramatically. Werewolves are the worst.

Stiles isn't sure whether Scott's too far away to hear him or not.

"I have a life you know," he shouts anyway. Oh my God though, does he? Does he have a life which doesn't consist of werewolves, and their crazy, crazy problems.

Derek huffs at him as soon as he sees him, like he's utterly betrayed that Stiles was gone for three hours. But the moment he throws himself awkwardly on the couch Derek pins him there, by simply sprawling on top of his legs. He grumbles complaint low in his chest, and there is far too much sniffing for Stiles to be even a little bit comfortable with. There may even be licking, Stiles can't tell because his hair's in the way. It feels like licking.

"You weigh a ton," Stiles tells him, but he pats Derek awkwardly, because he doesn't know if he even understands the whole 'going away and coming back,' thing. Stiles doesn't exactly have a degree in animal psychology, not that Derek is an animal, not really. Shit, this is confusing. Derek's back and his hair is covered in plaster, and Stiles finds himself brushing at it, and picking bits out of Derek's hair. "What on earth were you doing, just rolling on everything? And I was gone for three hours. I do have a life that doesn't involve werewolves and their problems, as I keep trying to tell everyone. But, hey, while I've got you here, I got you something."

When Stiles had told Scott what he wanted, he'd looked at him like he was insane. Which, ok, it had sounded kind of stupid when he explained it, but Stiles has been thinking about this, and it's totally worth a shot. He smacks Derek, until he turns to look at him.

"You're not an animal, you know you're not an animal. I know you're not an animal. So I figure we'll work on that assumption, and just strike out for some middle ground, ok? I don't even care what Scott thinks, this is an awesome idea and you'll appreciate it, when you know how to appreciate things again. Or maybe you won't, maybe you'll just glare at me and growl something about how I don't belong in your business, I don't know. Grumpy you is exceptionally grumpy."

Derek makes what Stiles decides is an agreeable noise into his hoodie, and Stiles pats him on the head for it.

"I know right? It's like you're walking around with a stick up your ass all the time. I understand about the whole tragic history. But you should make friends. We could be friends. We kind of are friends, I think. But I'm doing like ninety five percent of the work. You can't just put all your efforts into life-saving you know. Which, ok, that's awesome, but you can't be socially inept forever. You have to, spread your wings, like a butterfly, say hi occasionally, maybe ask someone out for coffee, make a joke - not a scary one, where it sounds like you're being deadly serious, but a proper one. Also, smiling, you could learn smiling. I saw you fake one, so I know you know how."

Stiles fishes in the bag Scott had given him, and sorts through the blocky, colourful little books. One of them has balloons on the front. He flips it open, all card-thick pages, bright pictures and big text. He half-stands it on his thighs, so it's somewhere in front of Derek's face. If he wants to pay attention to it. Stiles is really hoping he does, since that's the whole point of this.

"John has a red balloon," Stiles reads.

Derek's staring in the general vicinity of the book, and he doesn't try and eat it, which is something - Stiles likes to think it's a good something.

"Look, there's John with his red balloon - I know it looks nothing like a balloon but it's a kid's book - I figure the artist was about six so we have to cut them a little slack. A starving six year old artist. There's literally no way to judge him and not feel guilty."

Stiles remembers that they're supposed to be starting with small words, and he needs to stop rambling.

He flips to the next page.

"Ben has a blue balloon." Stiles points at the blue balloon, in case that helps.

He turns the page again.

"Sam has a yellow balloon - these kids are clearly the life of the party."

Derek keeps moving, restlessly, against his side, and Stiles is force to move sideways, until he's slumped against the arm of the couch, with Derek sprawled heavily over his legs. The book's mostly tilted in front of his face. He seems to be comfortable now though, breath flaring hotly through the denim of Stiles's jeans.

Stiles reads the thrilling story of how the three boys take their balloons out, meet a dog, and gradually lose their balloons in a series of tragic accidents. He doesn't think much of the twist ending.

He looks down to see if any of this is making it through Derek's head. But Derek's eyes are shut, mouth pressed open and messy into Stiles's thigh. He's making quiet, exhausted noises on every breath. And his face is completely human, he'd shifted back at some point, when Stiles wasn't looking. But more importantly, Derek is asleep. Derek is asleep on him.

"You have got to be shitting me?"

Stiles lets the book fall back against his backpack.

He'll try again tomorrow.

*****

He spends Sunday night in his own bed, because he's damned if he wants to spend another night sinking into the gloomy, almost-softness of a broken bed, in a room someone probably died in. No offence to Derek's family, but the house is creepy as hell, and if there ever turns out to be actual, real life ghosts, then that place is going to be full of them. And, yes, he hates the fact that he's actually considering whether ghosts exist, in a deadly serious way. He's genuinely weighing up the possibility of a world where at least fifty percent of all ghost stories are true. Because if ghosts exists then he knows damn well that eventually he'll meet one of them - and it'll probably be evil, because their luck is shit - and just, no, he doesn't want to think about it.

When he gets back to the house he discovers that Derek has made himself some sort of weird nest in the upstairs bedroom, blankets and clothes pulled together into a tangled pile. One of Stiles's shirts has made its way in there too. Which, ok, it's fine, he really didn't want it that much anyway. The pile smells warm, and slightly unpleasant, but at least Derek's sleeping now. That has to be something.

Also, Derek has clearly spent most of the morning rolling around outside, and he's covered in mud and leaves and bits of twig. He's a complete and total disaster of dirt. And after his enthusiastic hello, which involves far too much headbutting - which, ow, seriously - and sniffing - still pretty humiliating - Stiles is almost as bad.

He drags Derek upstairs, and puts the Hale house's shitty water pressure to the test once again. Derek still refuses to put on clothes afterwards, and it's really hard to get a towel round someone with super strength. So Stiles just says, fuck it, and lets him bound around the house dripping wet. It should look more ridiculous. It's completely unfair that Derek only looks, like, ten percent ridiculous.

When he's eighty percent dry, Stiles pins him still, and reads him 'The Thunderstorm That Scared The Mountain.'

He does the sound effects too. He chooses to believe that Derek's impressed.

He stays awake this time at least.

*****

When he gets to the house at ten on Tuesday morning there's a dead animal on the porch. Which says a lot about Derek's current mental state. It's the biggest fucking deer Stiles has ever seen, and its mangled, ripped-apart throat is just as gruesome as he would have expected it to be.

It looks at Stiles with its sad, dead eye.

"Awesome," he says flatly, and lets his bag slide down his arm and hit the floor. "I'm so not up to dealing with this right now."

He leaves it there. If Derek wants it he can eat it outside.

He wanders his way through the house, and he recognises the scatter of the things he left here, poked through and dotted with claw marks. But the house is empty, and Stiles has that brief worry again that Derek has somehow gotten past the line of mountain ash, and gone out into the woods. Maybe gotten himself shot, or mauled a person, or run into traffic. But then Derek's right there when he reaches the kitchen, coming from nowhere and looming into his personal space, skin wet with dew, spotted with bits of grass. He's breathing like he's been running, like he's been chasing, all heaves of muscle and weirdly open expression. Seriously, his whole face is relaxed in a way that almost looks happy. Which shouldn't look so disturbing, but Stiles has genuinely never seen Derek look happy about anything - and then suddenly Derek's so much closer. There's a hot rush of breath, and then wet, biting pressure against Stiles's jaw, and the corner of his mouth, that makes him flail away with the shock of it.

"Wow, ok, that is completely gross. You killed a deer with that mouth."

And the side of his own mouth is now covered in spit. He carefully wipes it off with his sleeve. Derek is still a huge, damp, naked weight that's mostly crushing him into the table. Stiles pushes at Derek's chest, and it's like trying to push rock, until Derek relents with a grunt, and sways backwards.

"Hi, to you as well," Stiles says. "And, oh my God, I'm going to get you into pants today if it kills me, and I mean that literally. There will be pants or there will be blood - hopefully not mine." He wants to glare at Derek so that he knows he's serious. But Derek is - there's no other word for it - Derek is smiling. His mouth is open and stretched at the corners, teeth a flash of white. He looks - he looks so different, Derek has never been this, Derek's face has probably never done this. Which is kind of a shame, because he definitely has the face for it. He has the sort of face that should look this happy all the time.

"That is so wrong," Stiles tells him, but he can't help smiling back. It's the shock of it, probably. He sort of pats him in the general chest area, because he did good. Derek smiling is good. Also, it's weirdly nice for someone to be happy to see him. Not because they want something, just generally happy to see him. "Seriously, though, pants."

Derek follows him up the creaky, half-broken stairs, and into the room Stiles is assuming he's been using. It's charred, and dusty, and one of the walls has a big freakin' hole in.

"You really should renovate you know. Or at least knock the whole thing down and start over. You're just punishing yourself living in it like this. Having Peter around as well, that's like extra bonus creepy points. And honestly, I don't want to know what he's doing while you're on a mental vacation, even though I suspect that in some way I probably should. Because not knowing what Peter is up to is not a comfortable brain space to be in."

There are still sweats on the chair. Stiles gets the feeling he's going to have to send Scott out to buy more if this goes as well as he thinks it will. He picks a pair up and turns around.

Derek's crouched behind him, head low, mouth slightly open, like he's ready to play a game or jump on something. It looks hilarious, and a reckless, mischievous part of Stiles kind of wants to get sidetracked by seeing what he could do with that.

"No, no games, pants - we can maybe play later, if you put the pants on."

Stiles throws the sweats over his shoulder, and catches Derek by the arms, encouraging him upright.

"There we go, now sit in the chair." He pushes him helpfully. He doesn't think sitting is a natural movement for Derek at the moment, but he seems willing to do what he's told to see what comes next.

Stiles drops to his knees and tugs Derek's feet over.

"Oh my God, your feet are a mess, what have you been running through?"

Stiles wrangles both of them into the sweats, and then pins them still with his hands, so Derek can't twist straight out of them.

"No, behave. We're wearing pants today. Everyone will be very impressed. They will be in awe of my powers."

He pins Derek's legs still with an elbow while he tugs them up to knee level - and Derek's already trying to squirm his way out of them, with an irritated sort of noise.

"Hey, no," Stiles's snaps, and Derek's legs go still, enough that he feels confident in flailing upright and pulling Derek with him. Then Stiles is tugging the waist up awkwardly with one hand, while Derek tries to wriggle free. It's a little - oh my God, Stiles is so glad that Derek is never, ever going to remember this. But Derek ends up with his waistband mostly where it's supposed to be, for the first time in four days.

Stiles is pretty damn impressed with himself.

"Congratulations, you have graduated to pants."

Derek doesn't look as happy as Stiles thinks he should be, having not grasped the achievement here.

"Please keep them on, it's not that you aren't a fabulous specimen of manliness, because you are, you're an amazing specimen of manliness. But there should be an element of mystery."

Derek's doing the lip curling thing, pushing at the grey material with the heel of his palm. Stiles catches his hands and squeezes them, and Derek lets him keep them with an odd sort of look on his face. So, yes, they need a distraction, they need a distraction right now.

"Hey, we can have book time now, you like book time."

Stiles pulls him into the living room, and it's clear Derek does not enjoy the whole 'walking in pants,' experience. Stiles digs behind the sofa cushion and finds the collection of books. He pulls up the little green one he picked yesterday.

Derek sniffs the book, and then immediately claims his position sprawled over Stiles's lap

The story of Bamber the Mouse, who ate everything, until he almost burst, is less impressive than the balloon story, or the story about the thunderstorm that scared the mountain. Derek falls asleep half way through again. Stiles sighs and lets the book fall, and drops a hand into Derek's stupid hair.

"This would be a lot easier if you showed some sort of sign that you were getting it. I'm not asking for words. I'm just - dude, at the minute I'm getting the feeling you're just associating the couch with nap time. It's not that I don't appreciate nap time, I'm lazy and your shoulder makes an awesome PSP rest, but seriously. You're going to have to work with me here."

He lets his head thunk back against the arm of the couch, and absently scratches his fingernails across Derek's scalp.

-

Three hours later there are a pair of sweats tangled around one of the table legs in the kitchen.

"God damn it!" Stiles says, narrowly avoiding spraying bits of sandwich everywhere.

"What?" Scott asks almost-panicked, around his own sandwich. He'd brought them with him, as an apology for abandoning Stiles to play temporary Alpha.

"Is it so hard to just wear the pants?" Stiles snaps.

Scott considers the angrily scrunched ball of grey fabric.

"At least you're trying, I guess. I mean eventually he'll be in a pants-wearing mood again. He'll probably be grateful that you at least attempted to preserve his dignity."

Stiles barks laughter, because that's the funniest thing he's heard all day.

"You haven't been here, trust me, there is no dignity. Dignity has left this place, and there's only embarrassment, humiliation and confusion in its place. Be glad you're out there with your temporary ducklings, and I'm the one in here trying to teach Derek about pants, and trying not to get slapped in the face by - oh my God, we're not talking about that. How is it then, being a temporary Alpha?"

Scott looks at him, like he doesn't know whether to deal with the first part of that speech, or the last.

"I have no idea what I'm doing," Scott confesses at last. "It's kind of terrifying."

"Join the club," Stiles moans.

"Erica doesn't take me seriously, Boyd doesn't really say anything, Jackson's being a dick, and Peter keeps looking at me."

Stiles really only gets one thing from that sentence.

"Peter's back?"

"Yeah," Scott says miserably. "With the looking, and I don't want him there, but I can't do anything about it."

"I haven't seen him," Stiles says, because that's what you expect of Peter. You expect him to be lurking around. In much the same way as Derek. Only Derek's lurking has a sort of creepy-protective vibe to it sometimes. Whereas Peter's lurking has more of a creepy, sexual assault and crazy, vibe, all the time.

Scott shifts uncomfortably.

"Dude, Derek doesn't want us here. You have no idea what that threat-growling thing does when you're a werewolf. It goes all the way through you, makes all your insides stand on end." He shudders. "Erica, Isaac and Boyd want to come, because Derek's still the Alpha, they can still feel him. Only he's not really up to being one at the moment. I don't think he even knows they're his pack. I'm trying, but it's really...it's really hard."

He checks the time on his phone.

"I should go, I - it's easier when they're not on their own for too long."

Stiles waves a hand.

"It's fine, Derek's been acting weird today anyway, fidgety and restless, and also hugely enthusiastic. He totally bit me on the face to say hello this morning." Stiles resist the urge to wipe at it again with a sleeve, on reflex, though he's glad he resisted the urge, because his sleeve is almost certainly now dirtier than his face.

When he looks up Scott looks horrified, and Stiles is forced to reassure him.

"Not like proper biting, not scary, werewolf biting, there was no blood, mostly drool, ok, like, ninety percent drool and ten percent teeth. It was really nothing."

Scott's still looking horrified, like that explanation really didn't help at all.

"What? No, seriously I'll be fine. Go."

"No, I think I should definitely stay," Scott says, and he's doing the genuinely alarmed face now, that never means anything good.

"What? What is it?"

"The face biting thing - not really a food thing," Scott admits.

"Bad thing?" Stiles asks, and Scott's wearing that constipated look he gets, when he honestly doesn't know how to answer a question. Because all the answers will get him in trouble.

"I may have accidentally done that to Allison, once or twice."

"Oh my God, it is a bad thing," Stiles says slowly.

"Not bad just..." Scott stops, does an awkward little face scrunch, and then flounders.

Stiles gestures with a hand.

"No, please, finish that sentence. I would love to know how it ends."

"He's just being friendly, really friendly. He's not thinking like Derek, he's confused, he's -"

"He's making overtures of a sexual nature isn't he?" Stiles says, because he might as well pull Scott out of the hole, before he gets to the bottom. It's what he does.

"I think - maybe, a little bit." Scott winces.

There shouldn't be any wincing involved, wincing does not fill Stiles with confidence.

"It's not aggressive," Scott adds. "At least now you know he doesn't want to eat you."

Stiles glares at him.

"Not in a - not like you're food. There won't be any eating of your limbs...or any of your internal organs -"

"Oh my God, stop talking," Stiles says, because he's just making it worse now.

In the end Scott leaves, because Allison texts him, and tells him she wants to talk, and clearly the chance to see Allison is more important than Stiles's virtue. Stiles is fairly sure that Allison just wants to see if they can be friends. She clearly wants to have the friends conversation. But he doesn't want to kick Scott when he has that hopeful look on his face. That's just a special sort of cruel.

Derek doesn't do anything remotely threatening. He falls asleep in his creepy nest, possibly exhausted after a day of deer hunting, and children's stories.

*****

Isaac and Erica visit on Wednesday.

Well, ok, Stiles says visit. But he only knows something's up when Derek spends most of the morning prowling from back door to front, giving disagreeable little chuffs. Stiles knows it's not Scott, because he's already familiar with the way Derek reacts to Scott. Though it's not like he can ask Derek what's up. 'What is it Lassie, who's out there?' So he just keeps a wary eye on the woods.

Isaac and Erica show up by the road, just before lunch, looking awkward and uncertain. Derek growls at them, but it's more of a brief, perfunctory growl, which turns into a thick little noise of complaint, when Stiles just wanders out of the house, and past the line of ash to greet them.

Derek's wearing pants today, so far. He's still in something of a Schroedinger's pants stage. Meaning when Stiles isn't looking there's a fifty-fifty chance whether Derek's wearing them or not. They haven't exactly been preparing for visitors. If he'd known he might have tried for underwear too. He would almost definitely have tried to wash the bits of dead rabbit off Derek's neck.

Erica doesn't look at Stiles when she shuffles closer to the house, her eyes are fixed where Derek's prowling the edge of the line behind him. There's a wavering noise in his throat now, like he's not sure whether he wants to growl at them or not.

Isaac looks nervous, but hopeful.

"Scott didn't think it was a good idea yet," he says quietly. "But we just wanted to see him. We wanted - it was kind of bad the other day, and Scott said you were helping him so...." He does look behind Stiles then, and Isaac's face is expressive enough that Stiles can tell he's not sure whether to be disappointed or not. It's clear he wanted some sort of obvious improvement. Though, considering the last time they saw Derek he was naked, dirty and trying to maul them, Stiles thinks this is pretty good.

"Yeah, I really have no idea, but I'm trying my best," Stiles admits, he gestures towards Derek and then shrugs. "Deaton told Scott that our best chance right now was just to wait and see if Derek's brain healed on its own."

"And if it doesn't?" Erica says, from where she's crept in behind him.

Stiles looks at her, and the way she says it - Stiles had known that they missed Derek. It was to be expected, they were his pack, Derek had made them. But Stiles had never really felt it before. He can feel it now. The way they want to go over to him. The way they still want Derek to tell them what to do. Even though he's in no condition to do that right now.

"He said something about encouraging it, but judging by the way Scott said it I'm guessing I don't even want to know, that I am so much happier not knowing. Unless absolutely necessary." Absolutely necessary would be 'never' if Stiles had his way.

Derek's crouched just behind the line now, frowning, and there's something human about the expression. Something frustrated.

"Ok, I know this is going to sound insane, and possibly ever-so-slightly creepy, but you need to hug me," Stiles says simply.

Isaac's face scrunches.

"What?"

"He doesn't remember people, exactly, but I think he knows what smells familiar. He calmed down around Scott once he smelled like me, and I smelled like him. So, it's kind of working, you have to get him used to new things gently, just do it."

Isaac shrugs, leans in and wraps his arms around Stiles. He's tall, and it's awkward and kind of weird. Because Stiles doesn't really know Isaac that well, and Isaac doesn't really seem to know how to hug. Erica sighs, and reluctantly plasters herself to Stiles when Isaac pulls away. She hugs him hard, it's like a firm, manly hug that steals his breath for half a second. He's crushed somewhere between breasts and hair, and she smells kind of amazing. Derek's growl goes extra crispy for the Erica hug.

They both watch as Stiles walks back over the line, to stand next to Derek. Derek huffs, like he's offended Stiles would even want to go over there and make himself smell like them. Then he hauls Stiles close, and does his grumbling complaint mostly into Stiles's ear while trying to drape himself over him like a cape, a very heavy cape.

"See, Isaac and Erica are fine, we know them. You made them."

Derek's not baring his teeth at them any more, which is something.

"If I break the circle you can probably come over, only if he starts making the threat noise -"

"We know," Erica says before he can finish. She snorts. "Trust me, we'll know if we need to get the fuck out of there."

"He attacked us before," Isaac says, and there's a little stiffness, and a lot of hurt there. Stiles feels for him, he does.

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure he was out of his mind at the time. He's - well I'm not going to say 'better' because he's clearly not. But he's not as bad as he was."

"He's clean," Erica points out. "And he's wearing clothes. That's definitely better."

Stiles flails a little with his hands, in a way that he thinks is supposed to convey that the art of getting someone dressed was more difficult to master than he expected. Or possibly it's just vague flailing that means nothing.

"We're still working on the clothes. He doesn't understand them yet, and he objects to them with extreme menace. So don't be surprised at some point if he's - er - not wearing clothes any more. Oh, and everything in the circle is kind of his, so just be aware of that. In fact, it's probably easiest if you just treat him like a big, vicious dog."

Erica looks pissed about that.

Stiles holds his hands up.

"Oh, believe me, I know exactly how that sounds. But he nearly took a chuck out of Scott's arm when he startled him the other day, and he's actually almost used to Scott. I know you can heal, but this is Derek, and you know how much damage he can do when he's actually in control of himself.

"Yeah, we do," Erica says quietly. "Do you?"

Stiles ignores that, and cautiously opens the circle.

Derek gives an unimpressed snort, and then shoves Stiles towards the house.

Stiles, Erica and Isaac sit on the crumbling porch, drinking the sodas Scott has been half filling the kitchen with. They're warm, because there's no refrigerator, and no power. Stiles is going to complain about that at some point, when Derek's capable of doing something about it. Derek leans against Stiles, shoulders flexing, occasionally he makes grumbling noises in Isaac and Erica's direction. But he doesn't try and bite anyone. Stiles is putting this firmly in the 'excellent progress' column.

Isaac's fiddling with something on the stairs, and it takes a second for Stiles to recognise what it is, to take in the blocky pages, and the colourful little boy waving on the front.

"The Thunderstorm that Scared the Mountain?" Isaac reads, his eyebrow goes up in surprise, but the corner of his mouth is twitching too.

Stiles honestly isn't sure whether to feel embarrassed about that or not. It hadn't really mattered when Scott knew, but Isaac and Erica are different.

"He likes that one, he made me read it twice," he says defensively.

Erica's laughing.

"I had that book as a kid."

They flip open the book, and read it in silence together, while Stiles drinks warm soda and suffers through Derek's sweaty wriggling against his shoulder. It doesn't take very long for them to finish turning the pages.

"You got him kid's books, seriously?" Erica still sounds more amused than anything else.

Stiles shrugs.

"I was hoping he'd remember what words were."

"Is it working?" Erica passes the book back, and Stiles takes it from her.

"I don't know, I don't even know what I'm doing. I'm surprised he hasn't eaten me yet."

"You really don't know do you?" Erica laughs. "If you had any senses at all -"

"Erica." Isaac's voice is suddenly tense.

"What?" She shrugs.

"I'm pretty sure that wouldn't help right now," Isaac says quietly.

She looks at Stiles, in a way that he thinks is supposed to mean something - possibly not something complimentary.

"Ugh, you're probably right."

"Hey, thanks for inviting me to this conversation I don't get to be a part of," Stiles complains, and his jostling dislodges Derek, who doesn't seem to care, he just makes himself comfortable on Stiles's folded knee.

*****

Friday is too hot to stay indoors.

Derek is restless and playful, and Stiles isn't entirely sure that he always remembers Stiles isn't as strong as him. He's trying to avoid any awkward moments where he's broken accidentally. But it's hard to occupy a two hundred pound werewolf, who wants to playfully hunt things down, and pounce on people.

So Stiles says, fuck it, and breaks the line of mountain ash, watches him disappear into the woods, and hopes to hell that Derek doesn't do anything stupid.

It turns out he shouldn't have worried, because Derek keeps reappearing every five minutes. As if he can't understand why Stiles doesn't want to come with him.

Stiles falls asleep in the sun, without really meaning to.

When he wakes up there's a dead rabbit staring at him from two inches away.

"Oh my God, I hate you."

*****

He puts the circle back up overnight, since he doesn't want Derek following him home, and he thinks there's probably a good chance that he would do exactly that. Stiles isn't going to put his dad in danger like that, and anyway there's really no way he can explain it all to him, not without the whole waterfall of werewolves, and kanimas, and Peter Hale coming out with it. So, no, Derek gets to overnight at his fabulous, crumbling, burnt-out mansion. Which he's clearly fine with. It's not like he had taste before he turned into the poster boy for 'actually raised by wolves.'

But Stiles takes it down again the next day, because Derek proved that he wasn't willing to go too far. Maybe Stiles has sort of accidentally established that everything inside the circle is his territory, and everything outside is, he doesn't even know, hunting grounds? The rest of the world? Here, there be dragons?

Also, Scott and Erica and Isaac can come as they please this way. Which is good for Derek, company is good for him, company which he seems less inclined to eat as the days go by. What's the opposite of aversion therapy, he can't remember? That's what they're doing, don't eat people, get treats.

Stiles is on the couch, eating chips, when Derek bashes into his shoulder like he wants his attention.

"Hey, dude, what's up?" He turns his head to look at him, bag of chips crushed against his chest by a lazy forearm.

Derek's brought him 'The Boy Who Lost A Shoe.' He drops it on Stiles's chest, pushes down on it, hard enough for Stiles to make a surprised, wheezy noise.

Stiles stares at the book. As far as he can remember this is the first time Derek has actually picked something up, like he remembered how hands worked, and brought it to him.

He dusts cheese dust off his fingers.

"Come on then."

Derek slumps his huge frame over Stiles's legs, arm hanging off the edge, knee jammed into the back of the couch. He doesn't look comfortable at all, but he seems happy enough.

The book's about a boy who loses one of his shoes, and then wanders the animal kingdom trying on all their shoes instead. None of them fit, obviously. Stiles honestly can't tell if Derek appreciates the story or not, he mostly stares at him without blinking, though he does snort messily at Stiles's tiger noise. Which he tries not to be insulted by. Because Stiles isn't built for menacing noises. But he thinks he's doing a pretty badass job anyway.

"Shut up, my tiger roar is awesome."

When he gets to the end of the book he lets it fall shut on his chest.

"And let that be a lesson to you, not to steal shoes from animals. they don't appreciate it. Also, animal feet render the whole thing an exercise in frustration."

There's a creak of floorboards, and Stiles looks up, startled, because Derek hasn't moved. Scott's giving them both a weird look from inside the doorway, and ok, fine, the way Derek's sprawled on top of him might be considered...might be considered something. If he wasn't currently a huge puppy.

"Er, this isn't what it looks like," Stiles says. Because that's literally the first thing that comes into his head.

"I don't even know what this looks like," Scott says, though judging by his disturbed expression, he's currently thinking about what it looks like.

"Hey, I push him off and he just comes back, what do you want me to do, hit him with a rolled up newspaper - would that actually work? Do you think? Do you have a rolled up newspaper?"

"I'm a little humiliated for him right now," Scott admits.

"Why?" Stiles gestures expansively. "Look he's wearing pants and everything. Which was not easy, believe me."

"You domesticated him," Scott hisses, like it's a dirty word. Which is kind of hilarious. "Do you have any idea how terrifying that is?"

"He's house-trained too."

Scott's face spasms, and that genuinely looks like it hurts, until it settles into something that's all horror and morbid curiousity.

"Don't ask me," Stiles says, before he can even open his mouth. "Seriously, just never ask me about that, ever."

"How is this not weird for you?" Scott demands. "I mean you've always been good at dealing with things, even when you're freaking out. But this is - this is pretty crazy even for us. And it's Derek."

"You think this isn't weird for me?" Stiles stares at him. "Dude, this is so weird. This is many kinds of weird, and uncomfortable and occasionally humiliating. It is all of those things. But we kind of owe Derek. And, though I'm pretty sure he's going to be super-mad when someone tells him about this later. I'm just glad he's not wherever he was getting knives shoved into him any more. I can cope with a few dead rabbits, and the occasional invasion of personal space. Even if Derek does weigh a ton. An actual ton, I swear."

Scott makes a noise.

"Umm, you do realise you're -."

Stiles rolls his head on the arm of the couch, and frowns over at him.

"What?"

Scott gestures at where Stiles's fingers are still moving in Derek's hair. He hadn't even noticed.

"Oh, right."

He pointedly lifts his hand out of the depths of it. There's a pause, and then Derek grunts, and tries to get it back again. Stiles relents with an irritated noise.

"Oh my God," Scott says, like he can't believe the pair of them. "My mistake, he's apparently domesticated you."

Stiles flips him off. Which just makes Scott laugh. But then something occurs to Stiles.

"Hey, he didn't freak out when you showed up, he must have heard you. But apparently you got a free pass today."

Scott shrugs.

"Maybe he just doesn't care any more, maybe I'm not interesting enough to eat."

Stiles moves his legs as well as he can around Derek's huge, immovable weight, until there's more space in the middle of the couch. "Dude, come over here."

Scott looks at him like he's just asked him to eat razor blades. Which, no, Stiles really shouldn't laugh at that, it's cruel.

"Come on." He waves again, more aggressively, until it almost looks like flailing.

"Are you sure?"

"He didn't even huff at you when you sat down."

Scott looks warily at Derek's stretched body.

"I will grab him if he moves, I swear," Stiles promises.

Derek watches Scott the whole way. Until he sits down by Stiles elbow. Then Derek turns his back on him, and ignores him completely.

Stiles can't help the grin, or the little punch in the arm.

"See, he's adopted you too!"

"Am I accidentally in his pack again?" Scott says, in a half annoyed and half defeated sort of way.

"To be fair he's probably not expecting much of you this time. Maybe a steak every once in a while, belly rubs, you could bond over 'The Boy Who Lost A Shoe.'"

Scott glares at him.

"I'm not rubbing anything," he says loudly, and it turns out that 'scandalised' is his best facial expression ever.

"He likes it, you know. I found it out completely by accident. It's like a superpower. Especially if you want him to drop something." It had been kind of awesome finding that out. Scott should be way more impressed than he looks right now.

"Oh my God, I don't need to know this." Scott actually half-lifts his hands, like he's going to put his fingers in his ears. Which is hilarious.

*****

Sunday evening brings the person Stiles least wants to see to the house.

He knows someone's there ten minutes before they show up. There's just no sneaking up to the property now. Derek's crouched on the porch, as soon as the sun goes down, making noises like he wants to kill something, and Stiles leaves his sandwich on the kitchen table, and heads out there, stands in the dark, hands shaking a little. Because he doesn't want to meet anyone Derek would make that noise for.

Until Stiles sees Peter, and then he's just angry.

Peter Hale is standing on the edge of the circle, boots almost touching it, and he's dressed up, in a way that no one is when they take a night-time stroll through the woods.

"What do you want?" There's no way he can come past the line, no way. But Stiles can't help glancing down anyway.

Derek has learnt that he can't go past it, but he doesn't seem sure whether Peter can or not. The growl he throws in his direction is ragged, low, and intense.

"Interesting," Peter says. "There's something to be said for the cold, hard honesty of the completely feral."

Derek stretches and tenses in his direction, as if he doesn't like Peter's voice, and is more than prepared to make it stop, savagely and enthusiastically, if only he comes close enough.

"He's not completely feral," Stiles protests, hand dropping instinctively to touch Derek's shoulder.

Derek makes a low, grating, threat noise which does its best to prove him wrong.

"You shouldn't be surprised he's pissed. You killed his sister, and then tried to kill all of us."

Peter smiles, all teeth and amusement, and that makes Stiles want to punch him in the face, so badly.

"Oh, I have no doubt there's a great deal of repressed rage and violence in there for me. But mostly he's growling at me because I frighten you," Peter says, and his eyes drift briefly from Derek to Stiles.

Derek's growl goes cracked, and Stiles really doesn't like the way Peter's looking at him. He does his best to shove Derek behind him, and the growl cuts off, surprised almost, before starting again, deeper and harder.

Peter's eyebrows both go up.

"This is very interesting." His head tips slowly to the side. "But I shouldn't be so surprised."

Stiles ignores that, because it's clear Peter wants him to ask.

"Do you have anything useful to offer? Do you know what could have happened to him?"

Peter drops the sinister smile, brow furrowing like he's thinking about it.

"I'm not sure, severe head trauma, torture, we can heal almost anything but very occasionally we heal...wrong. Sometimes we don't want to heal at all." He stops talking, mouth going thin. "And on that note I think I shall go, before he loses patience, and tries to get through the line and disembowel me, whether you approve or not. We wouldn't want him to hurt himself."

Stiles wishes, just for a second, that the line wasn't there.

Peter throws them both one last amused look, like he knows exactly what Stiles is thinking, and then disappears into the trees.

Stiles stays there all night to make sure he doesn't come back. Derek sits by the door until morning, unsettled and tense, he refuses to be quiet.

*****

Monday is hot again. The pack has drifted into Derek's territory, more through a genuine desire to see him, Stiles thinks, than any sort of plan. Even Jackson is wandering around grumpily in the distance. Pretending that being a werewolf is impossibly tedious. Because Jackson can't be happy about anything. Boyd is drifting quietly somewhere, like he does. Stiles thinks people underestimate Boyd's ability to be stealthy, it's probably better than Derek's. Peter isn't here though, Stiles is neither surprised nor unhappy about that. He thinks - going by the way Derek had reacted to him at the weekend - he'd get his face bitten off if he showed up.

"You're lucky it's Summer vacation, or I'd have to go to school, you do know that?" Stiles tells the huge shape slumped over his feet. Derek grumbles complaint when he twitches one of them. But his toes are going to sleep, people underestimate how heavy Derek is, he's all muscle, and seventy percent of that muscle is on top of Stiles's shins.

"You do realise he probably can't understand a word you're saying," Isaac says, as if he thinks he's being helpful, or that Stiles didn't know that already.

Isaac and Erica are sprawled out next to him. Erica's foot is actually touching Derek, which Stiles thinks is probably progress.

"Hey, he likes story time, so he knows what words are at the very least. We're working our way up from 'knowing what words are,' to 'making them ourself.'" Stiles likes talking to him anyway. He likes the way Derek looks at him like he's paying attention, whether he understands the words or not. He likes the way there are little snorty noises, and grumbles, that may not be coherent answers, but make him feel like he's having a conversation anyway.

"And how's that going?" Isaac asks.

"There are no words as yet, it's a slow process. Did I not mention the pants before?" Stiles gestures with one, sweeping arm movement, towards Derek's huge, slumped shape, which is indeed wearing pants. There are pants in the equation. "Does no one appreciate what a huge step the pants were?"

"I'm genuinely sad that you didn't tape the whole thing," Erica says, and she looks genuinely sad too. But Stiles doesn't think Erica should have video evidence of anything. She's crafty and knows her way around a computer. There's no way that could end well.

"No, no we do not need video evidence of that. But he's going to need pants when he comes back. I'm doing a public service."

"I don't know," Erica says. "I'm kind of not missing Derek's training regime."

"Isn't Scott doing the whole substitute Alpha thing?" Stiles flings an arm towards where Scott is, like he's throwing a dart.

Isaac judges how far away Scott is, and how distracted he is.

"Scott thinks his regime is tough," he says quietly. "We're not going to tell him otherwise."

"He's a puppy," Erica agrees.

Stiles spends the next few minutes sniggering at the thought of it, and trying to stop his left foot from falling sleep in Derek's armpit.

"It's been more than a week," Erica says suddenly. "Scott told us what Deaton said, that if he wasn't back, then there were things he could try."

"Yeah, he made those things sound like they were more of the kill-or-cure variety, and I'm pretty sure Derek's been tortured enough already," Stiles says stiffly.

"Stiles, we need him -"

"Just give me more time. He's getting better, there's more of him than there was before." He slithers his feet free, and Derek grumbles like Stiles moved on purpose, sliding across the grass to find a damp patch of shade next to Isaac. Stiles groans annoyance, and flails an arm in Isaac's direction. "Don't let him roll in the mud. I do not want to give him another bath."

Isaac raises an eyebrow.

Erica bursts out laughing.

Stiles winces.

"Yes, I am aware of how that sounds. But I think he does it on purpose, he keeps rolling in things. I think he likes the whole shampooing thing - Oh my God, please do not tell him I said that when he's sane again." Stiles looks over to where Scott and Jackson are having an argument over - he doesn't even know, but probably not the same thing they started arguing about two hours ago. Stiles isn't going to pretend he has werewolf hearing. It's all fractured words and noise to him. He thinks this is probably what Derek feels like watching them now. All noise and movement and smells. Derek's still lazing in the grass, half asleep, or possibly pretending to be asleep and actually stealthily aware of everything. Stiles isn't entirely sure. But he stands and brushes grass off his jeans, wanders over to Scott. If nothing else he can provide arguing power. Jackson tends to get bitchy and wander off if people gang up on him.

Scott's arguing face is a weird combination of angry, helpless and stubborn expressions. Which sometimes makes him look stupid as hell, but he wins a surprising number of arguments that way, so maybe it's a superpower that kind of works for him. He doesn't win arguments with Stiles, because Stiles is immune to Scott's faces, all of his faces - most of his faces. Everything except the really sad ones, that make him look like a confused puppy. Which are weirdly less effective now he is an actual puppy. He has no idea how that works.

"Hey," Stiles says, when he's close enough to catch all of the words. "What's going on?"

"Scott thinks we should tell Argent about Derek," Jackson says, like he already knows what Stiles's reaction is going to be.

"Excuse me?" Stiles turns on Scott. "You can't be serious."

Scott glares at Jackson, and Stiles tries not to think about how Scott might have done it anyway, without even telling him. He can't think that, because he'd be too mad for words if he thought that was true. Jackson just lifts his eyebrows at Scott, as if to say 'yeah, you're all on your own explaining your way out of this one.'

"I know you're trying, Stiles, I do. But he's an Alpha and he's out of control. I'm not going to let Mr Argent do anything to him. I just want to let him know what's going on." The explanation is hurried out, like Scott already knows how mad Stiles was going to be about the idea.

"Are you serious? Do you hear yourself? You're not going to let him do anything?"

"I'm trying to protect people," Scott protests, and no one should pout like that when you're effectively talking about turning over sensitive information to a guy who's only one bad day away from wanting them all dead.

"No, you're trying to score points with Allison."

Scott's whole face creases up in angry denial.

"That's not fair."

"No, it is, it's completely fair." Stiles tries to pull back some of that anger, because it's not helping. "Look, I know you fucking hate not being around her, I do. I know you just want to fix it all, and you think this is like a bridge of something. A sharing bridge or something. I get that. But you're not just fucking Derek over here. It's all of us. I mean, my God, me and Jackson agree on something. It's like the end of the world."

"Maybe you're trying to grab power, Scott," Jackson says over Stiles's shoulder. "Maybe you're enjoying yourself, and you want to play Alpha for a little longer."

Stiles throws his hands up.

"Ok, I'm rethinking my earlier opinion, where I thought Jackson was right. Now I just think he's an idiot."

Jackson turns around and thumps him. He doesn't do it that hard, for a werewolf, it's a brief, smarting vibration through Stiles's shoulder.

But suddenly there's a huge, pale shape just filling the space between them, noise like something's tearing in two. Stiles can't even process it, it happens that fast. Jackson's on the ground, and Derek's teeth just punch down through his shoulder, almost too fast to see, and there's a grisly wet burst of blood, and the sharp crack of bone.

Stiles goes cold all over.

"Derek, fuck, Derek, stop, stop, stop." Stiles's hysterical yelling makes everyone freeze. Derek stops trying to chew his way through Jackson's shoulder, and gives a low, wet snarl.

"Drop," Stiles says, because he doesn't know what the fuck else to say. He's shaking, and that's a mess of anger, and fear, and cold disbelief.

Red eyes roll towards him, and then Derek's jaws unlock with a crack, stretch open. Blood runs from his open mouth, and Stiles swallows reflexively, and then regrets it.

Jackson gives a shaken, gutted noise of pain, but doesn't try and move. Everyone else has gone impossibly still. Stiles thinks the whole lot of them probably smell like a circle of fear.

"Jackson, are you ok?" Stiles's voice is half the volume he means it to be.

Jackson's swearing, teeth clenched and bright with his own blood.

"No, I am not fucking ok -" he stops talking when Derek twists his head and snarls at him.

"Oh my God, fuck, you're going to be ok, he's going to be ok, right? Stiles asks, though he's not sure who he's asking. He stumbles close enough to lay his hands on Derek's skin, where it's bare and hot, and jumping with every breath.

Erica looks at Stiles like he's insane, like she's thinking about lurching forward and trying to drag him away, no one else even breathes.

"Come on, get off him," Stiles says cautiously. Not entirely sure if he'll do as he's told. But Derek stretches back into his grip, skin sliding through his hands. Stiles pushes him in the direction of the house. But he doesn't move, he doesn't even turn. His eyes are still flicking between Stiles and the half-circle that makes up the rest of the pack.

"Stiles, he's not going to go without you," Scott says eventually, slow like he's only just realised it himself, and Stiles thinks, fuck. He loops a hand round Derek's wrist and pulls, and when they get close enough to the house he forces him to sit on the broken porch.

Erica and Scott are helping Jackson sit up. He's shock-pale, spattered with droplets and lines of blood, and his arm is hanging at a sickening, horrible angle. It's one of the worse things Stiles has ever seen, and it makes him want to throw up. He knows that Jackson's a werewolf, and he can heal it all. But Derek's an Alpha, so it's going to take time.

Derek whines quiet, angry confusion.

"Don't even talk to me right now," Stiles says flatly.

*****

Stiles sits on the couch and fumes, while they help Jackson to Derek's car. Erica's driving the Camaro until Derek wants it back, or until he's capable of driving again. He's not sure how they decided that, maybe they rock-paper-scissored for it or something?

Stiles ignores Derek, pointedly and obviously, in a way even Derek has to notice. He's angry, and he wants him to know it. Judging by the way he won't stop quietly whining in his throat, and putting his nose on Stiles's shoulder, he's getting the point across. When Derek brings him a book, and pushes it into his armpit Stiles rolls over and stares at the back of the couch. Until Derek slinks off, and sinks into a crouch by the door, staring out at the rain.

Scott comes in cautiously, warily treading the floorboards. But Derek doesn't so much as look at him. So he shoves Stiles's foot out of the way and sits on the couch next to him.

"He was protecting you, you know that right?"

Which is bullshit, because five minutes ago Scott wants Derek's balls in a vice, and now suddenly he's defending him?

Stiles sighs and throws himself onto his back.

"He nearly ripped Jackson's arm off. Jesus. I forgot how - I forgot how scary he was when he's doing his thing."

He rubs a hand over his face, and his forehead is still sweaty-damp. He hates how he's still shaking a little bit, stupid with adrenaline, because he knows better. He knows what Derek's capable of. He never forgot, he just didn't think about it, and maybe he should have been thinking about it.

"He's getting better," Stiles says weakly. "He looks confused sometimes, in the way that people do, you know?"

Scott nods. "Yeah, I mean, I can see."

They both look at Derek, who's not exactly the poster boy for progress at the moment. He's still in the doorway, quietly growling at the outside world, mouth, chin and throat streaked bloody. He looks savage.

"Jackson is a lot to throw at a person," Scott offers tentatively. "We forget sometimes, because we've known him forever but he can be -"

"An asshole?" Stiles says.

"I was going to say confusing, but yeah, that works too."

"I don't know what happened to him -" Stiles stops. "But I'm pretty sure it was bad, like awful levels of badness."

"Are you ok to stay here with him?" Scott asks, and pointedly tips his head towards Derek. Stiles can't help but frown at that. The whole thing with Jackson may have been brutal and kind of terrifying, but Derek has never hurt him, has never even tried to, or even done it accidentally.

"Yeah, I'll be fine, and I don't think I should leave him by himself right now. I'll text my dad and tell him I'm staying with you. Honestly, what's one more lie at this point."

Scott looks like he wants to hug him, and sure they do that sometimes, but it's not really a thing. He might have done it as well, but his eyes cut sideways to Derek, and he seems to think better of it. What with Derek making a habit of viciously savaging people today. And Stiles can be pissed at him for that too.

"I'll be back tomorrow, are you going to do the mountain ash after I'm gone?"

Stiles can hear the 'tell me you're going to do that, or I'm going to feel bad about leaving,' which Scott doesn't say.

He nods. "Yeah, I'll take care of it."

"Just be careful." Scott's all frown and worry, and Stiles feels bad, again, about not worrying more about what Scott has going on right now. He should have asked more, he should have let him vent more. Scott doesn't deal well with being thrown into things. But he's trying, Stiles can see that he's trying. He's doing the responsible thing, and if Erica, Boyd and Isaac are any indication he's doing ok. But nothing's happening at the moment, no rogue werewolves, no magical threats, or mythological monsters.

Scott shoulders his bag, and heads out across the creaky floorboards, and Stiles knows that they can't keep Derek here forever. This can't go on indefinitely.

Derek creeps over to the edge of the couch, when Scott's too far away to hear any more. He rests his face against the edge of Stiles's. Stiles can feel the rasp of stubble, and the flare of breath against his skin.

"No, you're not forgiven - and stop licking me that's not helping." He pushes at Derek's solid chest, and Derek lets himself be pushed away, though there's a little huffy noise which tells him he doesn't want to go. "You have no idea how completely unnecessary that was today. Animals play-fight all the time, and Jackson didn't hurt me. You're being a possessive, over-reacting dick."

Derek whines - he literally whines at him. Before slinking close again, and Stiles has an arm, and half a chest, full of extremely heavy, impossibly hot werewolf.

He finds himself dragging his fingers through Derek's hair, feeling frustrated, and fragile, and helpless.

"Your pack misses the hell out of you, you know that? I kind of miss you too. The grumpy version of you who knew words. Granted, not many but you knew some. Sooner or later Scott's going to step in some deep shit, and I need you there to back him up, preferably while wearing pants, and knowing your own name."

Derek shoves his face into Stiles's neck, and huffs a sigh at him.

"Apology accepted," Stiles says grudgingly.

*****

Tuesday morning is grey and heavy, and feels like thunderstorms, which seems appropriate. Stiles feels a bit like a thunderstorm himself. Because he realises that he's been going about this all wrong. He's been letting Derek do whatever he wants. He hasn't been pushing. He needs to push.

He drags Derek out of his nest, when he gets to the house, and all the way down into the kitchen. Where he moves him into a chair, and them hikes himself up onto the table in front of him.

"Ok, we'll start off simple. Because I know you're not exactly working on all cylinders."

Stiles takes a deep breath, and looks Derek in the eye.

"Stiles." Stiles taps his own chest. Then he picks up Derek's hand, and very carefully lays it against his chest as well. "Stiles."

Derek looks at him like he's waiting for the punchline, or possibly some sort of squeaky toy.

"Come on, Tarzan, I know you can do this, you have vocal chords. You've been talking for twenty odd years."

He squeezes Derek's wrist.

"Stiles."

Derek's fingers curl under his own, tug at his shirt.

"No, we're not playing, and you can't just slam into me whenever you want my attention any more. I'm putting my foot down. You're going to say my name. Because that's how it's going to go from now on. You don't get anything unless you can say my name."

Scott's not here, so he can't do him - no, he totally can, what the hell is he talking about? Derek's a werewolf. He hops off the table, wanders into the living room and picks up Scott's bag. Then he takes it back into the kitchen, and shoves it under Derek's nose.

"Scott," he says firmly.

Derek sniffs the bag, and then tries to see if there's anything edible in it. Stiles tugs it back, until Derek's fingers are just tucked round the edge.

"Scott."

He's not sure if it will make things more of less difficult, that their names begin with the same letter. Whether Derek will get confused, or just not be able to differentiate between the two. Stiles has never taught anyone to speak before.

"Scott."

Derek snorts in his direction, and one of the straps on Scott's bag snaps.

This might take a while.

By four o'clock Stiles has a headache, and his throat's bone dry. Derek got bored of the game early, and then led him a merry chase around the house, only settling after lunch when Stiles shoved him to the floor, and then sat on him, until he deigned to let Stiles babble words at him, over and over.

The sky's getting darker, thunderstorm rolling in.

Stiles only means to lay on the couch for five minutes, but the next thing he knows someone's shoving him. He recognises the jittery, slightly too-hard jostling of someone who's still learning about having arms.

"How many times, Derek, you don't need my help to take the pants off, they're elasticated."

"Stiles."

Stiles is awake immediately, sitting up and blinking - and whoah, it got dark.

"Derek?"

Derek's half-knelt in front of him, all messy hair, and eyes which aren't entirely there.

"Stiles." It's a grate, too hard on the t, and strange catching s's. Not quite Derek, but something closer to Derek than not-Derek. He hadn't imagined it then, holy shit, holy shit.

"Oh my God, dude, you made a word. You made a word, you're fucking awesome."

Derek rumbles, because Stiles's excitement is pretty obvious. He's clutching at Derek's huge, naked arms, and Derek's shoving a nose in his ear. Stiles thinks the fact that he's no longer weirded out by that is probably a bad sign. But he's too busy laughing and smacking him in celebration.

And then there's an almighty flash of lightning.

Derek gives a low, barking rush of sound, and he's hauling Stiles off the couch, and towards the door. Stiles stumbles and slams into the wall, winces and flails to stop himself falling. Derek's already reached the front door.

"Derek, we can't fight the thunderstorm," Stiles starts. But the words are mostly drowned out by the roaring crack of thunder rolling overhead. "And if we did I really don't think we'd win."

Derek's down the porch steps now, settling in the grass to watch for the next flash of light.

"Animals are supposed to hate thunderstorms," Stiles points out, trying to blow rain out of his eyes. "They're supposed to hide under tables and stuff."

No one seems to have told Derek that though, because he's standing in the middle of the lawn, eyes half shut, face running with water. Stiles can't help but drift closer, full into the rain, which is cold, but still kind of amazing anyway.

"We're getting soaked, you know that right?"

"Stiles," Derek agrees.

Stiles can't help grinning.

"Yeah, that's never going to get old."

He's watching the sky, so he misses Derek moving, but suddenly there's biting pressure at his jaw again, sliding up to scrape against his mouth, and Stiles is pulling away with a sputtered noise of protest.

"Oh my God, really? Why am I not surprised that thunderstorms do it for you."

Derek's face is scrunched in the rain, running wet, and he looks so stupidly happy. Like biting Stiles on the face, and standing around in a freakin' thunderstorm was all it took to make Derek happy, and honestly Derek has never been happy. Stiles didn't even know Derek knew how to be happy. This is the saddest happy thing Stiles has ever seen.

Ugh. Fine. Stiles sighs, and very slowly eases closer.

"Yes, the rain is awesome, you are awesome. If you tell anyone about this I will deny it, I will deny it furiously."

Derek doesn't even hesitate to lick at the trail of rainwater, where it's running off the edge of Stiles's jaw, all teeth and enthusiasm and complete lack of elegance. He follows it up to the corner of Stiles's mouth with a low, rumble of noise. Stiles pulls a face, and snorts under the tickling drag of a tongue, shakes his head, rain water flicking everywhere. Then he scratches at Derek's soaking wet hair and shoves him away.

"Don't think this means I'm into you, because I'm not. Pretty as you are, there is a tragic IQ imbalance here."

Derek hums against his skin.

"It would never work out," Stiles says with a laugh. "And I kind of miss the grumpy dude your face belongs to. No offence."

*****

Wednesday is warm again, and damp grass or not, Derek doesn't want to stay inside.

He barks Stiles's name and tugs on his arm, and Stiles is kind of regretting teaching it to him now. Because Derek has already worked out that it's Kryptonite, and is now making Stiles do all the things. Until he's too tired to move any more, and he ends up leaning back against one of the worm-eaten porch struts, playing Plants versus Zombies.

Derek slopes from the porch to the grass, briefly disappears into the woods to see if he can terrorise something into bleeding, he comes back happy enough, with leaves in his hair, and mud on his chin. He always demands some sort of attention, before he disappears again, to do god knows what. Stiles is starting to have sympathy for those parents that say 'I just took my eyes off them for a minute.' Though he's hoping Derek isn't going to fall into a well, or get eaten by a bear or something.

Stiles is trying to read about feral children on his phone, when Derek comes back, and he moves a knee so Derek can slump over him. He fidgets until Stiles lifts a hand, absently scratching Derek's hair. Until Derek twists, and Stiles gets the grate of stubble under his nails instead - and the noise Derek's making changes completely.

His eyes drop half shut and, oh my God, this is officially the best thing ever. Stiles doesn't stop the lazy scratching, and there's a soft rumble that's not quite a purr, but something like it, something deep and pleased. And that is so weird, listening to a semi-happy noise come out of Derek's throat, face completely relaxed, eyes sleepy. Derek has so many facial expressions, and Stiles is pretty sure that once he's back to normal he's never going to see any of them again. He'll go back to the gloomy, perpetually angry, I-am-disappointed-in-the-whole-world, face that he'd worn for most of their encounters.

"Dude, I'm going to miss your face. I really am. I'm kind of going to miss your complete disregard for personal space as well. Which sounds weird, I know. But this weirdly affectionate you is kind of hilarious. Also, y'know, who doesn't like hugs - not that you're technically hugging, you're mostly just making me smell like you, or using me as a resting post, or possibly to cool off on my lower body temperature."

Still kind of feels like hugs all the same.

It's not - ok, maybe it is a little weird, but he's getting used to this. He knows that Derek's going to come back eventually, and he wants him to. He wants Derek to be ok, and have all his brain. Because there's a pack in desperate need of an Alpha. Also, this is Beacon Hills, there's going to be some sort of threat eventually and Derek can't deal with it like this.

He's still going to miss him though.

Scott texts him at lunchtime asking him if there's any change, and Stiles doesn't ask about the sudden impatience. The way there's a strangely unhappy sort of disappointment when he sends back a cautiously worded, 'I'm not sure, trying some new things.' Which Scott's obviously taking as a no. He can take it as a no. But Stiles takes it like a kick in the ass. Which is a language he speaks.

He spreads a hand on Derek's skin, which is sun-warm and smooth under his fingers.

"I think we need to increase your vocabulary." He says it like it's an apology, and there must be something in the words, because Derek looks at him, attentive and curious, even if he isn't focused. Stiles misses that focus. He'd thought once that Derek's face was blank. But that hadn't even been close. Derek's face had been a fucking landscape painting. He'd never noticed it. But he misses all the weird variations and hints that he had going on. Derek's face had become familiar, for all its grumpy inability to articulate. Stiles had grudgingly, but surprisingly quickly let Derek slip from 'possible enemy' to 'possible friend.' Once he realised Derek was the way he was for a pretty good reason, and he wasn't unbendable, you just had to put the lever in the right place, and push really, really hard.

"Shall we start with 'yes,' and 'no,' and 'please?' Though I'm not sure you knew what 'please' meant when you had all your brain cells."

"Stiles," Derek murmurs against his leg. Which Stiles pretends sounds reluctant and annoyed.

"You have absolutely no interest in conjugating verbs at all, do you? Dude, I don't blame you, words are complicated and there are a lot of them, and to be brutally honest, you weren't all that fond of them when you knew what most of them meant."

Derek makes another rumbling noise in his throat.

"I get it, believe me. Life is way easier like this isn't it?"

Derek snorts against his hand and - that's kind of gross.

*****

Thursday morning starts with Stiles bending over the sink, trying to wash blood out of three t-shirts, two sooty curtains and a towel. With only a box of dubiously old laundry detergent, that he found liberally coated in dust. He has no idea how long it's been since someone tried to do washing in this house, he feels a little weird about that, if he thinks about it too much.

Derek is pushing his face into the back of Stiles's neck, all pressure, and wet mouth, and inquisitiveness. Stiles elbows him away without thinking about it.

"Seriously, you're the one who insists on taking dead animals to your nest made of clothing and furnishings. You only have yourself to blame when I steal half of it to wash the blood and entrails off. Seriously, who sleeps on entrails? You can rub yourself all over it again when it's clean. You're not sleeping in a gore-encrusted mess of animal fluids. That shit does not fly in the Stilinski household. Which this is not, obviously. But my point is made."

Derek makes a distracted noise, but he's not trying to steal any of his stuff back, just leaning his weight on Stiles's back, in a way that seems vaguely purposeful. There's a low growl rattling around somewhere in his throat.

"You're not getting any of them back until they're clean. Why don't you go bite something."

Derek pushes at his hips, tries to get him lower, like he wants to bracket Stiles with his thighs -

Oh my God.

Stiles is flailing his way out from under Derek's weight. Because that is not playful, that is very much not the playful variety of contact.

"No."

He ends up smacking Derek in the face with a wet t-shirt.

"Dude, there is a strict no mounting policy in the kitchen," Stiles gets out, and his throat is doing this weird, clicking, hoarse thing. He isn't sure whether to laugh hysterically, or make it absolutely clear how very much that is not happening. "Or anywhere else in the house. Seriously, I will roll up a newspaper, I'm not even fucking joking."

He doesn't even know if that was a sex thing or not, and he's trying very hard not to think the phrase 'dominance mounting,' it had been awkward enough listening to the wildlife documentary's dry voiceover explain it with his dad in the room.

Derek just looks really confused.

*****

Scott shows up early on Friday, looking like hell. Stiles is going to bet money that the governor hasn't agreed to a last minute pardon. Well shit, he thinks.

But that's wrong isn't it? This isn't something other people get to decide, they're not here. Stiles is here, and he's the one who's going to decide what happens and what doesn't.

"Derek, pants," Stiles says firmly.

Derek makes a low, grumbling noise, and then rises to his feet, stalks his way upstairs to find some.

Scott looks surprised.

"We came to a compromise on the pants," Stiles explains.

Derek comes back down the stairs, wearing sweats, though the waistband is shoved indecently low. He makes himself comfortable on the cushions he's dragged off the other chair. Because Stiles can't convince him to sit down like a person. Derek seems confused about what shape his legs are. Though it's totally working for him, so maybe it's a werewolf thing.

Scott wipes his palms on his jeans and sighs.

"It's been - it's been nearly two weeks. Deaton thinks -"

"I know what Deaton thinks," Stiles says stiffly. "What do you think?"

Scott looks pained.

"Look there are strange werewolves out there. We need Derek, not crazy Derek, actual Derek. I know you're trying, I do. But I can't - I'm not exactly very good at this. I'm not making good decisions. I have a curfew. How am I supposed to be an Alpha with a curfew. I need help here. I need Derek, or I need you."

Stiles stands up, tugs on Derek's arm until he shuffles closer

"Who's that?" he says, and points at Scott, hopes to God that Derek isn't feeling willful.

Derek's jaw works for a second.

"Scott," he bites out.

"Holy shit!" Scott drops his bag, and stares.

"Who am I?" Stiles points at himself.

"Stiles."

Stiles puts a hand down and finds the bag shoved against the edge of the couch. He drags one out at random.

"And what's this?"

Derek reaches a hand out, and claims it for himself. "Book." There's a snap of teeth on the k, Stiles was going to work on that, he just needs more time.

Stiles exhales roughly, and squeezes Derek's shoulder.

"Yeah, you're awesome. Good job."

Scott comes closer. "Oh my god, he's talking." He looks so surprised he comes closer than he usually dares to Derek, and Derek's next exhale stirs his hair. "He's talking."

Stiles shrugs, like it's no big deal, even though it is. It's a huge fucking deal, and it's taken him a couple of days, solidly pestering the hell out of Derek, pinning him still, following him from room to room, naming things, pointing at things.

"He's making words, there's only a few, but it's closer, it's closer, and it's something. He's doing this, Deaton doesn't have to - look, I figured it out, ok. I figured out what could do this. I'm thinking electricity, lots and lots of electricity. Maybe he did this to protect himself or maybe it happened by accident, or maybe whoever had him knew what they were doing. Hunters probably, I mean he was gone for almost a month. Can you even imagine? I figure he got the worst of it when he tried to escape, when he managed to escape. And I think Deaton's smart enough to know that it could work the other way."

Scott winces, and Stiles doesn't even feel smug because he wanted to be wrong, he really did.

"But, just, no, I'm not going to let him strap Derek down and put him through exactly what did this to him. He's coming back, but he's not coming back like that. I can do this." He's shaking a little bit, anger, or stress, or something. He can't make himself stop.

Scott comes close enough to lay a hand on his shoulder, and Stiles relaxes, and maybe that was all he wanted, just for Scott to get this.

"Dude, you know I've got your back," Scott says quietly. "I've always had your back, every single day we've been friends. For the amazing things, and the incredibly stupid things. You know I trust you. If you say you can do something you always do it, and that's good enough for me."

Which is just like Scott, he can be a dick for weeks, and then suddenly he'll say crap like that, and make it all ok.

*****

Saturday night is cold again, like the Summer just can't decide what it wants to be from one minute to the next. Stiles looks over the top of his book, but Derek isn't curled at the end of the couch, or sleeping under Stiles's dangling arm. He hasn't seen Derek for a while. He sets the book down and goes wandering.

Stiles finds him at the top of the stairs again, curled over that dark, wet stain on the floorboards. It's horrible, Stiles had walked over it without even thinking about it before, and now he can't walk over it at all. Because that used to be someone, and he doesn't know who, but he thinks Derek knows, that Derek can tell in some sort of awful way. But he can't process it at the moment.

Stiles thinks he's full of things he just doesn't have the words for, and for the first time he feels awful about having to give him some. About making Derek feel it all over again. Because bringing Derek back means bringing all of this back, and no one should ever have to deal with something like this twice.

"Derek, Derek, come on, you don't want to sit here." Stiles pulls at his shoulder.

"No," Derek says simply. Because of course the first thing he does with his words is use them to win arguments. But it sounds gutted out of him, as if it's still painful to turn feelings into words. So Stiles stops pulling and just holds him for a second.

"Ok, dude," Stiles says quietly. "Ok."

He kneels down with him, shoulder pressed to Derek's.

"I know there's a huge part of you that doesn't want to remember. But I think you should come back. You have to come back. I'm not going to let you stay there forever, because I'm stubborn like that, and though I do kind of like the idea of teaching you how to fetch a ball as payback for all the times you were an asshole, or smashed my head into a steering wheel, we need you to come back."

Stiles sits there at the top of the stairs, leeching body heat out of Derek, until night turns into morning.

*****

Stiles is so tired he just drives home, and falls into his own bed. He spends most of Monday morning under the sheets, protesting the drizzly, grey clouds, that seem to want to aimlessly wander across the sky today. He vaguely registers his dad yelling something just before he leaves, but his brain must have decided it wasn't important, because he can't remember what it was.

He should probably get up. Derek will want to go investigate the woods if it rained in the night. Then he'll come back and drip all over Stiles's clothes. So he might as well just put on the same one's he wore yesterday.

When his phone goes he drags it under the sheets, rather than attempt to commune with the day until he's ready.

"Yeah."

"He's back, he's talking, he's him again." Scott isn't even stopping for breath. "He called Isaac at six this morning. He scared the freakin' hell out of him, and we couldn't believe it."

Scott's frantic rush of words has Stiles fighting his way out of the sheet, and nearly falling off the bed.

"What!?"

"Derek's back, he's totally himself again. Which was kind of scary. What did you do to him last night? I mean you must have done something, but you'd already gone home. Derek said you'd gone home."

Stiles is sitting up now, flailing his way into his jeans, phone squashed between cheek and shoulder.

"Did someone tell him what the hell happened?"

"Dude, we didn't have to, he remembers everything." There's more after that. Scott rambles on, voice gradually getting higher, and there's probably important stuff there that Stiles needs to know. Something about Lydia, and the mountain ash circle, and Jackson.

But Stiles is still stuck on that one line.

He remembers everything.

Derek remembers everything.

Stiles hangs up on Scott - while he's still rambling - and drops his phone on the dresser. Then he goes through a mental checklist of all the reasons that it's very bad that Derek remembers the last two weeks. Of all the things Stiles did, and all the things he said. Things he never would have said or done if he'd known - if he'd thought Derek would ever remember. He gets to forty, and then lays face-down on the bed, wondering how horrible it would be to suffocate himself to death. Wondering if it's even possible to suffocate yourself to death like this.

He stays in his room for four hours, ignoring his phone every time it goes. He can't do any more than that. He's genetically incapable of staying still in one place for more than four hours.

So he just gets in the Jeep and drives.

Scott tries to call him six times after he leaves, then sends him a series of text messages, veering from worried to annoyed, to worried again, and finally to some sort of pissed-off sympathy.

Three hours later there's one text on his phone from Derek.

'Get to my house, now.'

It's nice to see that Derek hasn't lost any of his charm.

*****

Derek is waiting on the porch, he's probably been waiting there since Stiles got close enough to hear. But Stiles doesn't care. He can wait a little longer. He can wait until Stiles can actually open the door of his Jeep and get out.

Derek has regained the ability to wear shoes with his pants, also, shirts and jackets. He has also regained the ability to contort his face into an expression of intense anger.

Crap. Stiles is immediately filled with a confusing mixture of relief and dread. It's not a good combination. They churn sickeningly together. Derek is Derek again. Which is so much more complicated than four words could adequately explain.

He's familiar and depressing, but sort of satisfying at the same time, like Stiles fixed him, even though that's probably not true. His brain probably just decided enough was enough. Or maybe he fell through a floor and smashed his head. Anything could have happened. He doesn't look happy about being himself again, which isn't as surprising as it probably should be.

Derek is...coming down the steps towards him.

"Stiles," Derek says stiffly, and yeah, he must be broken because he even missed that tone of voice.

Not like he's going to say as much.

"I think I miss the other you already," Stiles says, with a sort of jittery uncertainty. "At least I would have gotten a hello, or ok, knocked on my ass on the lawn - same thing really. Since manners weren't exactly your strong point. Not that they ever were your strong point. It's good that you're you again. Unless you're planning to murder me, in which case I would like to retract my earlier enthusiasm."

Derek stops at the bottom of the stairs, and Stiles is close enough now to see that there isn't just anger on his face. There's embarrassment there too, and something else, quickly bitten down on and pushed away.

"I should wring your damn neck," Derek says, like he's genuinely thinking about it.

Yeah, that's an awesome start.

"Oh my God, I wasn't exactly going out of my way to humiliate you, you know. You were the one who was doing an awesome job of that on your own. I was trying my very best to keep the humiliation to a minimum. I wasn't expecting a thank you, but the uncontrollable rage is a bit much, don't you think?"

Derek's bitch face wavers slightly, like he knows Stiles has a point, but he's too angry to give it to him.

"Do you have any idea how hard it was to leave the house, to just go into town?" he bites out.

Stiles has no idea what he's talking about. Because mountain ash isn't supposed to do anything other than keep things in or out, there aren't supposed to be side effects. There aren't side effects, and someone clearly got rid of the whole circle. Lydia, he's assuming.

"And that's my fault? How the hell is that my fault?"

"Because you completely fucked up my instincts," Derek shouts, and he makes it sound like Stiles did it on purpose.

"Screw you." Stiles is angry now, because maybe he wasn't expecting a thank you, but this is bullshit. "I was doing the whole thing blind, you know that. I was making wild guesses, and stumbling around in the dark, because it's not like you ever tell us anything, ever. Next time, we'll leave you in the ruined corner of your house, covered in blood, with a knife sticking out of your back. I sincerely apologise for giving a shit about you."

He's doing a pretty good job of storming off, when Derek is suddenly right there, catching at his arm and pulling him to a stop.

"Don't leave, don't fucking leave, that's not what I want. You were always leaving, and I couldn't work out how to get you to stay. You put that damn circle up, and I could smell you but I couldn't follow you. It drove me crazy." Derek stops, draws in a breath, and then lets it go. He drops Stiles's arm, and takes a step back, shoves his hands into his pockets.

"I didn't know anything," Stiles says, and he doesn't know whether it's an explanation or an apology, maybe both. "I was mostly letting you do whatever you wanted, so don't put this on me."

"Do you know how much I want to touch people now?" Derek says stiffly. "I spent two weeks -" he grits his teeth, and forces himself to continue. "I spent two weeks with you just touching me, all the time. I was drowning in the smell of you, and it feels wrong that you're over there right now. I hate that, do you understand."

Stiles thinks that Derek could maybe look a little less horrified about that. It isn't like Stiles is going to take it personally or anything.

"Yeah, I mean your face is kind of telling me that loud and clear. Which is why I'm staying over here. But is that so bad - I mean the touching part," Stiles asks. "You've never really been a fan, but you're a werewolf, and it's probably not good to avoid people, and - I mean you could try it? Erica and Isaac touch people all the time. They'd probably want you to, y'know, touch them in a reassuring sort of way more. Start with handshakes or something. It's not the end of the world, right? And then if you don't want to touch them you could, I don't know, wean yourself off of it. Try aversion therapy, or whatever, something. Only, no, don't do that, because that would be messed up."

Derek glares like Stiles doesn't get it.

Stiles throws up his hands.

"Dude, it's not like I broke you, you just had a holiday, like a responsibility-free, slightly embarrassing romp through the woods. Which we will never tell people about it, or bring up again. You can forget all about it, you can pretend it never happened, apologise to your Betas, and Jackson, for trying to eat them, relearn how to loom in corners, scare people from afar, and go back to being the grumpypants we all know and love."

Derek sighs, all the air just going out of him.

Just like that, Stiles gets it. It's huge, and insane, and he figures he's the dumbest person in the whole world. But he gets it.

"Wow, this is a lot harder when you can't just bite me on the face, huh?" he says slowly.

Derek looks straight at him, frustrated and angry and embarrassed, and Stiles didn't really need it confirmed, but oh my God, that is absolutey confirmation.

"Will you shut up about that. It felt really simple at the time. You protected me, and I thought you were mine." Derek grits his teeth. "And I'm aware of how that probably sounds to you, but it's different for us. The things you did - you didn't even know you were doing them, and it was so easy. You made it easy, Jesus, I'm sorry about - I'm sorry that I -"

"Tried to mount me?" Stiles offers, because, yeah, he definitely remembers that part. He's trying really, really hard not to grin, and completely failing.

"You're fucking enjoying this," Derek snaps, voice hard and angry. But Stiles doesn't even think it's real anger any more. It's more like defensive anger. It's an anger that wants to push more than it wants to bite.

"I looked after you for nearly two weeks, and sometimes I thought I'd never get to talk to your grumpy face again, so yes, yes, I am fucking enjoying this," Stiles snaps, breathlessly.

He's shivering and he doesn't know whether it's relief or anger any more, or maybe sadness. Because there's a little of that too, and he doesn't even know why.

"I did the best I could," Stiles says, helplessly, because it still feels like he needs to say something. "I'm sorry if I fucked that up, but you weren't exactly offering tips. And I was against it when the others wanted to try wiring you up, and electrocuting you. Which I think I should get points for or something, because clearly that wasn't necessary."

Something in Derek's jaw twitches, like he just resisted a whole-body flinch.

"I figured that was what happened to you?"

Derek's jaw works for a second, and then he nods stiffly.

"I'm sorry, really, but you were the one who picked me, Derek. I did not pick you. You would have been safe with one of the others."

"No." Derek shakes his head. "I wouldn't, that's the whole point. You were the only one that was safe. That would make the smart decisions, and you didn't take advantage - you didn't do anything at all while I was vulnerable." He sighs again, shuts his mouth, like he's saying way too much already. "Now this whole thing is a mess, my head is a mess, and I have no idea what to do with it."

Stiles can hear his own heart beating. The rush of it inside his own ears. It makes him feel dizzy and drunk, and recklessly brave.

"I could read you a story," he suggests slowly. "You could bite me on the face. We could see where it went."

Derek glares at him, like he's impossible, like he thinks Stiles is playing with him.

Stiles just looks at him.

Then suddenly Derek's closer, all tight mouth and hard eyes, and expression of quietly banked rage.

Stiles braces himself for...something.

But Derek just leans in, shifts his nose and mouth into the warmth of Stiles's cheek, and just breathes him in.

Stiles opens his mouth to speak - and Derek's moving, slotting their mouths together. It's still angry, rough in a way that feels more furious than sexy. It feels a lot like Derek is still yelling at him, if he's being honest with himself, and that really makes no sense at all. But Stiles is doing nothing to stop him. Because it's Derek, and Derek is kissing him. Until he isn't, because his mouth slides down, and to the right, and then he fucking bites him, and it's nothing like the friendly, cautious attempt that he'd been using to make them extra-special friends for the last two weeks. No, Derek sets his teeth against Stiles's jaw and digs them in, and Stiles makes an odd, gurgling, protesting, pained noise in the back of his throat. Because, Jesus, there will almost certainly be a mark there.

Then Derek's gone, glaring at him like he hasn't just bitten him on the face like a crazy, werewolf person.

"Ow," Stiles complains, loudly and accusingly.

Derek doesn't say a word, he just stomps back into the house.

He leaves the door open.