Stiles isn’t thinking when he opens his dad’s liquor cabinet. He just feels wound too tight, as if he’s going to jitter right over the edge of his life like one of those cheap toys he and Scott used to send marching off the kitchen table.
He’s slept with a baseball bat under his bed since the night Gerard dragged him away from the lacrosse field. Stiles stole the bat from Scott because Scott clearly doesn’t need it anymore, what with the claws and fangs. Stiles’s bruises are fading. He can press his fingertips down where Gerard’s fists slammed into his cheekbone, and it hardly hurts at all. Stiles doesn’t know why this scares him, but it does.
His dad keeps looking at him sidelong, like Stiles is an imposter. They’ve been avoiding each other. His dad keeps signing up for late shifts, and Stiles spends more time at Scott’s. But lately, it seems like Stiles can’t slide through Scott’s window without finding Isaac stretched out on the bed with a magazine while Scott fumbles through a guitar riff. He’s taken up the guitar again, now that Allison’s dumped him for real. Privately, Stiles thinks he’s composing a song to win her back.
Stiles shouldn’t be jealous. Isaac has been through hell between his dad, and his dad dying, and then the whole fugitive thing. Not to mention the poor guy has to live with Derek. Stiles shouldn’t resent Isaac for seeking out a bit of normalcy in his life, and Scott is great at making people feel normal. Stiles knows that better than anyone. But still, something dark and possessive seizes Stiles whenever he heads out to meet Scott and finds Isaac trailing along behind him, giving Stiles an apologetic smile, like he knows he’s intruding, but can’t bring himself to stop.
It reminds Stiles a little bit of the way he felt this afternoon, when he stopped downtown to grab a burger and curly fries, only to see Lydia and Jackson sitting together in one of the corner booths, their heads nestled close. At first, Stiles isn’t sure why it hits him the way it does. Lydia has been with Jackson since freshman year, after all. But there’s a brightness in Lydia’s eyes when she smiles up at Jackson, pure and unguarded. The cadence of her voice is subtly different, in a way Stiles can’t identify.
Stiles can hardly remember a time when he didn’t love Lydia. He think that he can catalog her every expression. He’s always known that another Lydia hid beneath the lip gloss, and the eye rolls, and the careful poses that she throws up like a shield. Deep down, Lydia is devastatingly brilliant. Sometimes Stiles wonders if she toned it down out of pity, if seeing the true Lydia must be a little like looking into the sun. How many nights had Stiles laid awake wondering how to make her realize that he wasn’t like the idiots at school, that he could meet her full on without flinching.
Only on his way home, with a bucket of curly fries in the passenger seat and a Dr. Pepper cradled between his knees, did Stiles realizes what has bothered him about seeing Jackson and Lydia together. That had been the true Lydia sitting in the booth with Jackson. With Jackson.
Like everything else in Stiles’s life, it’s not fair. All this year, Stiles has been clinging to his love for Lydia like he clung to the scent of his mother’s perfume in the faded, terrycloth robe he used to sleep with after she died. But his mom isn’t coming back. His dad will probably never be able to look him in the eye again. His best friend has superpowers, while Stiles is frail and human and pathetic. And for the first time since third grade, Stiles is picturing a world where Lydia doesn’t fall in love with, fifteen year plan aside.
It feels a little like a break-up, and how is that fair, since they were never together in the first place? Stiles is losing something that has always defined him. He wishes, absurdly, that Scott would turn up at his doorway with a stolen bottle of booze, like Stiles did for him the first time Allison dumped him. But Scott has always been kind of oblivious, even before the whole werewolf thing. For a second, Stiles considers texting him, asking him to come over. But with his luck, Isaac would tag along, too. Stiles is fine getting wasted in front of Scott, but he bristles at being so exposed in front of Isaac.
No, Stiles decides, he’s got this one on his own.
The bottle of Jack is already half empty, and it’s not like his dad will notice a few shots missing. He fits his lips around the rim of the neck, and tilts it up. It burns through him like lightning, pooling hot in his belly. He breathes in. Breathes out. Takes another sip. Does his dad feel like this, Stiles wonders, like he’s all jagged edges and broken glass inside? He can feel the whiskey inside him, rolling those edges smooth. He carries the bottle up to his room and slumps against the headboard, thinking of Lydia’s smile on the lacrosse field, Lydia who’d been cheering for him. He had that to remember, if nothing else.
“This is for you, Lydia,” he mumbles, toasting the empty air, and then takes a deeper sip, because he can’t think of that smile without also remember Lydia’s tears shining in the Jeep’s headlights when she thought Jackson was dead.
He wonders if anyone will ever wear that expression for him. Then he thinks about his dad, about the half empty bottle of Jack Daniels, and his stomach cramps into a knot. Stiles remembers his dad sitting at the kitchen table, with a tumbler full of whiskey set out by one hand, his pistol by the other, and a picture of his mom propped up between them. The thought still makes the breath clamp down in his chest, and Stiles drinks to drown it.
They never talk about those nights. Stiles hopes his dad doesn’t remember them. He wishes he could make himself forget.
Stiles doesn’t realize how much he drinks until he looks down at the bottle and realizes that it’s nearly empty. And that’s weird. Stiles doesn’t feel drunk. He pushes himself onto his elbows, and fuck. Yes, he is.
He stumbles into the bathroom and retches perfunctorily into the toilet, knowing that it will help. He splashes water on his face, and watches it swim in the mirror. For the first time, he thinks about how much trouble he’ll be in.
It’s too much to hope that his dad won’t notice. He’ll want to pour himself a drink as soon as he gets home. He’ll find the bottle missing, and turn up in Stiles’s doorway, looking at him again like he’s so fucking disappointed that he doesn’t even know where to start.
Stiles is intimately familiar with that expression.
Think, Stiles tells himself as he feels his way back to his room. How can you fix this? What can you do?
The answer comes to him at once, and Stiles laughs at his own genius, fumbling in his pockets for the phone. It wriggles from his hands like a fish. Stiles follows it down to the floor, lolling his head against mattress. It takes a few tries for him to flip it open, but then he’s scrolling through his contacts, opening a text message. He types it, but can’t remember if he hits send or not. He rests his head back and closes his eyes, just for a second.
Then someone has a grip on his shirt and is shaking him, hard. He blinks his eyes open blearily to see Derek Hale crouched in front of him, scowling even more than usual.
“What the hell?” Stiles yelps, trying to scuttle backwards, but there’s only the bed behind him, and besides, Derek’s grip holds him firmly in place. Stiles shakes a finger in Derek’s face, tries to keep him in focus long enough to glare at him. “You can’t just come in and scare me,” Stiles says, hearing the words slur, but unable to do anything about it. “I have a baseball bat.”
Derek just gives him one more shake, then releases him abruptly. Stiles hits the bed, and keeps sinking, until the carpet tickles his cheek. He stretches out on the floor, and watches while Derek reaches into the pocket of his leather jacket.
“What. The fuck. Is this?” Derek snarls, waving something in Stiles’s face. It takes a second for Stiles to realize that it’s a phone, and a second longer for the words on the screen to make sense.
Stiles blinks, then remembers. He grins up at Derek. “Yeah,” he says, and waves at the bottle of Jack on the floor. “I kind of borrowed that from my dad. Drank more than I should have.”
Derek’s lips tighten into a thin line. “What the hell do you expect me to do about it?”
Stiles gesticulates wildly. “Come on, dude! You owe me. Because of the pool. And the arm-cutting thing.”
“You want me to buy you alcohol,” Derek repeats. There’s something careful in his voice, like he can’t quite understand the concept. It can’t be that difficult. The guy hangs out with teenagers all the time. Surely Isaac or Erica has asked him before. But then, Stiles remembers, none of the betas can get drunk, so maybe not.
Stiles smiles sloppily up at him. “I’ll pay you back.”
Derek draws in a slow breath, and that’s all the warning Stiles gets before Derek’s hand is fisted in the front of his shirt, hauling him up to his feet. Stiles blinks, confused, but Derek just pulls him in until they’re face to face, and holy shit, he thought Derek was upset before, but now he looks pissed.
“If you ever, ever send me a text like that in the middle of the night again, you had better be bleeding out, got it? Otherwise, I am going to kill you myself. Damn it, Stiles, do you know what I thought?”
Derek shoves Stiles back abruptly, and Stiles tumbles backwards onto the bed, catching his shin hard on the bed frame. He hisses in pain, and Derek just glares at him before spinning abruptly on his heels and vaulting out the window.
Well. Screw that plan.
Stiles blinks drunkenly up at the ceiling, wondering who else he knows who’s over 21 and a little bit shady. Danny has a fake ID, but Danny doesn’t seem to like him much, certainly not enough to come to Stiles’s aid in the middle of the night. His last hook up was Greenberg’s brother, but he moved away last month. Peter might help him, Stiles supposes, but the last thing he wants is for Peter to show up in his room.
Stiles is still thinking it over when the window slams back open, and Derek climbs inside, carrying a brown paper bag and glaring at Stiles like he’s the scum of the earth.
A massive grin splits Stiles’s face, and he laughs with relief, pumping his fists in the air.
“You,” he says, “are my fucking hero. Do you want to, I don’t know, kiss me or something? Cause I owe you. Big time.”
“You’re an idiot,” Derek says. His voice is angry, but Stiles isn’t going to pay attention to that because, right now, Derek is high on his good list. Maybe even higher than Scott.
With some effort, Stiles manages to swing his feet to the floor and sit up. After two tries, he manages to snag the empty bottle from the floor, and then he’s rising, unsteadily, reaching out for the bag in Derek’s hand.
Derek holds onto it, watching Stiles suspiciously. “You are going to tell me where it goes, and then I’ll put it away,” he says. “I could smell the whiskey on you from the yard. You’re done.”
“I know,” Stiles says, lifting a hand to show that he gets it. “I know. But this,” he holds up the empty bottle, “was only half full. We can’t just substhi – subsit – put in a new one. He’ll notice.”
Derek hands over the bag, and Stiles grips it like a prize, stumbling to the doorway. He’s eyeing the stairs dubiously when Derek comes up behind him, wrapping an arm around his waist. He starts down the stairs, halfway carrying Stiles with him, and Stiles just grips his leather-clad sleeve and goes with it, telling himself that, really, it’s not that he needs Derek’s help. It’s just that Derek smells good, like leather and pine needles and the kind of musk Old Spice has been trying to copy for years.
In the kitchen, Derek leans against a wall, watching stone-faced while Stiles digs a funnel from the drawer. Some of the whiskey goes down the drain in the transfer, but not all of it. When he’s done, Stiles has two bottles, both half empty. He holds them in the air, triumphant. When he heads to the living room to stash one in the liquor cabinet, Derek follows behind him like an ill-tempered nursemaid. Stiles half trips when he goes to open the cabinet, but suddenly Derek is right there behind him, steadying him with one hand and slipping the bottle into place with another.
The cabinet clicks shut, and Stiles lets himself slump lean back against Derek’s warm chest, giddy with relief. Derek lets him stay there for a second, until he’s turning Stiles towards the stairs, propelling him back up them with a hand on the small of Stiles’s back. It’s like floating on a cloud of giddy relief, and Stiles basks in it, at least until they reach the bedroom, and Derek snatches up the other bottle, which Stiles has been cradling against his chest. Stiles gapes at him, betrayed.
“Hey,” he says. “That’s mine!” Trying to get it back feels a bit like wrestling with a statue. Derek just endures the clumsy tugging at his wrist and fingers until Stiles gives up and collapses down onto his mattress, letting his face fall into a manly and resigned expression that isn’t at all a pout. Derek watches him, frowning.
“Stiles,” Derek says carefully, “where’s Scott?”
Stiles shrugs. “With Isaac, probably.” He pulls his knees up to his chest, wanting to shield himself from Derek’s gaze. The hair on the back of his neck prickles at the way Derek’s watching him. It’s like he’s a math problem Derek has just figured out.
“And you don’t have any other friends.” It isn’t a question.
Heat flushes Stiles’s cheeks and neck, and he glares at Derek. “Shut up. Like you can talk. You had to bite all of yours, and they still can’t stand you.” A new thought occurs to Stiles, and practically dives over the edge of the bed, coming up with the baseball bat.
Derek is just staring at him, a slightly bemused expression on his face. Stiles wields the bat between them, swaying on his feet and feeling a little ridiculous, even through the whiskey haze. He can’t back down, though.
“Is that what this is?” Stiles asks. “Am I’m pathetic enough to join the werewolf club club?” He holds the bat before him like a shield, and hopes that Derek can’t hear the lie when he says, “If you try to bite me, I swear to God, I will hit you in the -- .”
Suddenly Derek is right there, all red eyes and fangs. The bat clatters to the floor, and Stiles just freezes, heart pounding as Derek nuzzles along his neck, drawing the side of one fang along the side of his throat. Derek’s lips brush the juncture of his neck and shoulder, and Stiles holds his breath, unsure if his apprehension comes from fear or from hope.
Then Derek is drawing back, his face entirely human, wearing a smirk that says Stiles has just been played.
For a second, the only sound is Stiles’s heart pounding, loud enough that even he can hear it. Then his fist crunches into Derek’s cheek breaks the silence that has fallen over the room.
“Fuck,” Stiles gasps, clutching his hand to his chest. Derek’s cheek is blossoming a red bruise that’s already beginning to fade to blue around the edges. Stiles stares at him, breathing hard. He’s not sure what shocks him more, that he hit Derek, or that Derek let him. “You asshole,” Stiles gasps. “You fucking asshole! That was mean!”
Derek shoves his hands in his pockets, looking a little sheepish. “Yeah,” he agrees. The bruise on his cheek is gone entirely now. Stiles suspects the one on his knuckles will last at least a week.
The phantom heat of Derek’s lips still lingers on the skin of Stiles’s neck. Stiles lifts a hand to rub at it, feeling Derek track the motion. “No ticket to the werewolf club after all,” he says, knowing the words are like the bruises he just can’t stop poking.
Derek snorts. To Stiles’s shock, he sits down on the mattress beside him, close enough that their shoulders brush. “You’re already in the werewolf club,” he says. There’s a note in his voice that Stiles can’t quite recognize. It might be fondness, might be resignation. “I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
Despite his anger, Stiles draws closer, soaking up the heat of Derek’s body. It’s comforting in the same way the whiskey was, warm and dangerous and just about right. “It just feels like everything’s changing,” he murmurs, letting his eyes fall shut. Derek doesn’t say anything, but his big hand curls against Stiles’s denim-clad knee, squeezing roughly. Stiles curls a hand around his wrist and holds on.
The bed shifts when Derek stands, and Stiles whines in protest, reaching out in a way that he knows will embarrass him in the morning. Derek, of course, avoids his hands because he is a werewolf, and Stiles’s hand-eye coordination sucks even when he’s sober.
Derek flips the light switch and darkness falls over the bedroom, save for the twin flames of Derek’s eyes reflected in the moonlight through the window. Blinking, Stiles watches as he crosses the room, bending over to retrieve something from the floor. It’s the baseball bat, Stiles realizes. Derek sets it on the mattress beside him, as if it were a teddy bear or something. Stiles swallows, biting his lip as Derek’s warm palm settles over the nape of his neck, squeezing once, briefly.
“Call me the next time you want to get drunk,” Derek says, retrieving the bottle from the desk, where he’d apparently placed it before deciding to take a few years off Stiles’s life. “I’ll hold onto this for you.”
Stiles rolls his head back against the pillow, watching as Derek swings himself over the side of the window. The room feels colder once he’s gone, although that might just be the breeze gusting in through the open window. Stiles burrows under the blankets, yawning. His hands curl around the baseball bat of their own accord. It’s weird, he thinks, but it does make him feel a bit better.